Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Save around 22%
with these retailers

(1873-1916) The Chamber Music - Five Volumes
Mannheimer String Quartet Claudius Tanski (piano)
all recorded at Fürstliche Reitbahn Arolsen MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS und GRIMM MD&G GOLD 336 (0711-0715)-2 Five CDs - only available separately 69.46 + 72.46 + 72.51 + 51.21 + 64.20 available in UK via Chandos

Vol. 1
String Quartet Op. 54 No. 1 (1899)
String Quartet Op. 54 No. 2 (1899)
String Trio Op. 77b (1904)
Mannheimer String Quartet
rec 27-30 June 1996 MD&G GOLD 336 0711-2 69.46

Vol. 2
String Quartet Op. 74 (1903)
String Trio Op. 141b (1915)
Mannheimer String Quartet
rec 5-7 Dec 1997 & 29 June 1996 MD&G GOLD 336 0712-2 72.46

Vol. 3
String Quartet Op. 109 (1909)
String Quartet Op. 121 (1911)
Mannheimer String Quartet
rec 27-19 June 1998 MD&G GOLD 336 0713-2 72.51

Vol. 4
Piano Quartet Op. 133 (1914)
Three Duos (two violins) Op. 131b (1913)
Claudius Tanski (piano) Mannheimer String Quartet
rec 27-28 March 1998 & 30 June 1996 MD&G GOLD 336 0714-2 51.21

Vol. 5
Piano Quartet Op. 113 (1910)
Serenade for flute, violin and viola Op. 141a (arr two violin and viola) (1915)
Claudius Tanski (piano)  Mannheimer String Quartet
rec 20-21 Feb 1996 & 30 June 1996 MD&G GOLD 336 0715-2 64.20

MD&G's productions are distinguished by the most demanding standards: musically and technically speaking.

The Mannheimer Quartet are the common force throughout all five volumes. In the last two volumes they are joined by Claudius Tanski already a regular on MD&G's ongoing German Romantics series (Draeseke, Bruch et al).

This, by the way, is not a boxed set but five individually available albums.

Not all that long ago I examined the CPO set of the string quartets. The details are listed below. That set included on three discs the mature and the not so mature quartets. The present set restricts itself to the mature works and of course adds other ensemble pieces from Reger's chamber production.

The Op. 54 pair are weighed down by congested textures but in the case of No. 1 this is relieved by the vivace assai's Viennese cheeriness. In No. 2 the andante (which usually is a delight in Reger) is rather sour. The Trio is a relief after such density of activity. The second volume's Op. 74 quartet plays for 50.36 and dates from 1903. This is much more accessible. Broadly speaking you can think of Smetana No 1 and Schoenberg's Pélléas. The allegro agitato reflects contented smiles and a stabbing poignancy after which Viennese charm and woodland fantasy prepare the way for the memorable andante: cradled, rocking and thrumming. The bucolica of the fourth movement finds a home for some nostalgic yearning - perhaps an echo of the distant homeland leitmotiv beloved of German lieder.

Regret for times long past also pervades the first movement of the 1915 string trio which has a central andante unmistakably akin to the middle movement of a late Mozart piano concerto. The finale is fugal, oddly enough, recalling Percy Grainger - but only for a moment or two.

In volume 3 the Op 109 quartet has a lovely allegro moderato succeeded by a chasseur stop-start quasi presto (very much the midnight huntsman). The inwardness of the larghetto (think of it as another superb Reger andante) is well caught by the Mannheimers. The allegro is a fugal chase game in which the instruments (characters to a man and woman) creep, rush and strut.

The op 121 work (1910) is also in four movements. The first (allegro espressivo) is out of a Korngoldian resource: the Viennese man about town. At 2.55 it is genuinely touching. After the vivace chase-play the adagio is a force to be reckoned with: a steady wondrous adagio, sane and contemplative in an insane world. Catch-as-catch-can is the stamp of the allegro con spirito: light of tread and with a superb broad romantic tune.

With volume 4 we leave the string quartets and open with the Op. 133 piano quartet. Some melody manages to escape the congealed textures of the first movement's allegro con passione but after this all is well with a fluttering vivace, a great largo with the piano touching in the half-lights and a munificently splintery allegro con spirito in which Reger surely had Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 in mind. The three duos for two violins each comprise two sections. They are neatly chiselled and will appeal to lovers of Bach's sonatas and partitas. These little 'chips' variously feature Vivaldian terpsichorean delight, the scent of the warmer south and lemon blossom, are suggestive of the solo violin in Holst Three Medieval Songs and catch the pulsating activity of Bach's double violin concerto and Brandenburgs

We round off this survey with the Piano Quartet op 113 (47.04). Its passionate auburn turbulence too often plunges into the mire of density - relenting occasionally but not often enough. The scherzo is flashy and Mephistophelean - but not a trace of Wedding Cake caprice. As expected (by now!) the larghetto is 'himmliche' - like the middle movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto while the finale's lurching splendour suggests a homage to Brahms (Piano Concerto No. 1) in the allegro energico.

The Serenade for two violins is not at all academic. Rather it breezes out of a world of wind-blown leaves with another tranced Schubertian larghetto (a still small voice but with a chill in air) and a Mozartian presto. The other Serenade has a vivace of Mozartian pastiche, a typically strong big larghetto of reflective poise (a movement almost twice as long as the outer movements) and a humorous presto borne on ponderous wings.

The cover portraits by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff are from art galleries at Dortmund and Amsterdam

The illuminating and detailed notes are by Susanne Popp and Michael Kube; the latter the author of all but volume 5.

This is a strong series well worth your attention. Performances and sound largely defy adverse criticism. There is nothing of the routine or conveyor-belt in these performances. Each seems an event in its own precious right. In the performances of the quartets there is little to choose between CPO and MD&G. However the two are not really comparable anyway. The CPO is a complete set of three discs only available together. The MD&G discs can be bought separately. I strongly commend volumes 4 and 5 if you cannot run to all five.


Rob Barnett


MAX REGER (1873-1916)   The complete string quartets on three CDs
CD1 73.32
String Quartet in D minor (1888-89)
String Quartet Op 54 No. 1 in G minor
String Quartet Op 54 No. 2 in A major
CD2 53.15
String Quartet Op. 74 in D minor
CD3 74.17
String Quartet Op 109 in E flat major
String Quartet Op 121 in F sharp minor

Berner String Quartet
rec 1992-94 co-production with Swiss Radio - Schweizer Radio DRS
three CDs nas CPO 999 069-2


Rob Barnett

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links but you can also purchase from:

Return to Index