Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

: String Quartet in E flat, Op.109; Clarinet Quintet in A, Op.146
Karl Leister (clarinet) & Vogler Quartett Berlin
NIMBUS NI 5644 [71' 55"]

Buy through MusicWeb for £12.00 postage paid World-wide.

Musicweb Purchase button


Max Reger (1873-1916) continues to get a bad press in certain quarters. Accusations of his music being turgid, dry, academic and boring only confirm my feeling that many people do not know how to listen to music in absolute terms. Yet the opening of the E flat Quartet (1909) could be by Brahms. Reger saw himself as continuing a line which begun with Bach and included Beethoven and Brahms.

Reger's music is undeniably abstract in form and content - yet he has the power to move the heart and the senses as both these masterly chamber pieces prove. It's getting to the emotional core of Reger's music that seems to be the problem for listeners.

Reger has Bach's mastery of counterpoint and an innate grasp of fugue and variation technique (qualities inimitably displayed in the finales of the Quartet and Quintet, respectively fugal and commentary). His string music - such as this Quartet - is no more of a problem to listen to and comprehend than the Late Quartets of Beethoven or the three of Brahms. Perhaps the susceptible content of Reger's music - which is certainly there and takes him closer to Schumann - is not as initially apparent as with the other composers. Reger's use of chromaticism, and his denser textures, do perhaps need more unravelling to get to the music's heart - but I suggest the effort is well worth it. The Quartet's first movement contains some memorable ideas, not least the beautiful subject that begins at 2'16" - soulful, exquisitely melodic and quite personal. This movement ambiguously switches between soul-searching and striving, a tension well conveyed by the Vogler Quartet. If Brahms is suggested so too is Schoenberg. Anyone who loves Verklarte Nacht (or any late 19th- and early 20th-century music that stretches tonality) will respond favourably to this opening movement. The following Scherzo finds the four musicians exchanging scale passages and scurrying melodic fragments in a movement of energy and not a little wit (sample the pizzicato passage from 0'51" to 1'14" or its varied return from 3'45") - there's an awful lot of imagination in this music.

The slow movement is the Quartet's heart, an absolutely beautiful movement, serene yet troubled. At 3'16" the memorable chorale tune from the first movement returns to be transformed, the restlessness that's been under the surface comes to the fore at 4'24" which is then consoled by the chorale. To my ears this is music of great passion expressed through the intimacies of chamber music. The finale begins with a Bachian fugue on a folk-song subject but there's nothing academic about it - this is music that is growing all the time and going somewhere, subtly changing as it does so. At it's mid-point the music calms to longer notes and an emotional release is sensed before the Quartet closes in dignified glory. In his notes, John Williamson suggests Op.109 is the masterpiece of Reger's five Quartets. I wouldn't want to argue with that opinion.

I imagine that for many people Clarinet Quintets begin and end with those of Mozart and Brahms. Surely there's room too for Reger's mellifluous counterpart? This is not as strenuous or as complex a work as the E flat Quartet. The Quintet, Reger's last completed music, may not have the immediate charms of the Mozart or Brahms - although Reger emulates both these masterpieces - but there is a deep beauty running throughout Reger's bittersweet declaration which is in an expressive world of its own. There's a playful aspect to the scherzo, its song-like trio is a delight. The slow movement seems to float on air and has an appealing elusive quality that draws the listener in without giving its secrets away too easily (these will come with further listening). The finale's variations (on another folk-song idea) is the most Brahmsian movement. Wearing autumnal colours the Quintet winds down - there's nothing left to say.

The Vogler Quartet gives eloquent and committed performances. Karl Leister's beauty of tone and his sensitive phrasing speak so persuasively for Reger's cause. The recordings are full, rich and vivid.

Anyone new to Reger (especially anyone put off him by negative comments) might like to sample first from orchestral works such as Romantic Suite, Four Tone Poems after Bocklin, Serenade and the sets of variations on tunes of Hiller and Mozart (try from Koch's survey mostly conducted by Horst Stein). Marc-Andre Hamelin's superb recording of the Bach and Telemann Variations (Hyperion) would be a perfect introduction to Reger's piano music. The chamber music starting-point might just as well be this excellent Nimbus release which is enthusiastically recommended.


Colin Anderson


Colin Anderson

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers :

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index