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Violin Concerto, Op 101.
Manfred Scherzer (violin), Dresden State Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt.
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There are but three really great violin concertos of the 20th century namely those by Jean Sibelius (1903), Alban Berg (1935) and this monumental masterpiece by Max Reger (1908). The violin concertos of Shostakovich are als very fine indeed and the finest violin concerto by a British composer, John Veale, is about to be released on Chandos with the superb Lydia Mordkovich.

The Sibelius is probably the greatest 20th century violin concerto of them all. If you study the score in detail and, for example, see all his dynamic markings you can hear how expert Sibelius was at blending the orchestra and yet one does not hear much about his expert orchestration. Pity, because it is as good as Richard Strauss, if not better. This concerto has everything and is beautifully written. Perhaps the way gets a little lost in the finale but it does not detract from this greatest achievement.

The Berg concerto is different. It is full of the mystical sexual fantasies one associates with this highly original composer and it is clear that he fancied Manon Gropius, the angel to whom it is dedicated. It is a curious, hybrid work with a Corinthian melody and an excerpt and reworking from a Bach cantata. Yet it is a very personal document and when played well, not always the case I'm afraid, it is profoundly moving.

The Reger concerto presents problems. Firstly it is its length, at a little under a hour in duration. Secondly, it is very difficult to play and this is why it is ignored along with the third reason, it is not fashionable. Prejudice rules. Reger is still unfairly maligned but only by the ignorant, I hasten to add. No musician worth that name would malign this genius.

It is a very. warm, mellow and mature work, sunnier than the Brahms and more exciting. The massive opening movement is as long as a Mozart concerto and has a glorious feel about it. Broad but not dragging as an Elgar symphonic work is and the Reger is always full of interest. I have already commented on Sibelius' orchestration. Reger's is also faultless. It is never turgid. The movement also has vivid characteristics. It brings to mind those lasting happy days in a nostalgia mood that does not wallow with nauseating sentiment. Some will indeed find the movement of the Reger too long but I am still impressed with it having known and loved it for forty years. I constantly find in it new things to delight in.

The slow movement is what a slow movement should be. It does not drag or grind but states its case and purpose directly and with a technical skill that Reger undoubtedly had. The only other great technical composer was the incomparable J. S. Bach.

But it is the finale that will win friends. It is full of unrelenting joy which contradicts those people who claim Reger is dull and turgid. What life and sparkle is here in a wonderful scherzando movement. Music of this enviable quality can only make you feel good.

I feel the soloist here concentrates on the light-heartedness of the movement at the expense of the robust character but that is a small gripe when the overall performance is so good. I have heard it played better but any opportunity to hear this work is eagerly taken.

I cannot understand why it is not better known when one considers some pretty awful violin concertos that have been recorded and recorded and recorded. This is a masterpiece. There is no doubt about that. It is technically flawless, thematically sound and logical in its brilliant musical argument.

Certainly one of my desert island discs although not necessarily this performance. I will stay with Susanne Lautenbacher. I could not live without this glorious, and I mean glorious, work.

David Wright

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