Violin Concerto, Op 101.
Manfred Scherzer (violin),
Dresden State Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt.
BERLIN CLASSICS 0091
242BC. Mid price. (ADD) [57.40]
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.