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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Piano Trio in E minor, Op. 102 (1908) [42:09]
Christine Ragaz, violin
Regula Hausler, cello
John Buttrick, piano
rec. 1985, ADD
JECKLIN-DISCO JD604-2 [42:09]
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This Jecklin-Disco release should help dispel a few myths. There remain widely-held critical misconceptions that Regerís music uses only limited resources of harmony and rhythm, is over-elaborate and too densely scored. Far from being over-heavy in texture and challengingly complex, his music can be immensely stimulating and packed with tonal colour. Recordings such as this are assisting Regerís gradual rehabilitation back to prominence in the German Romantic school.

Over his relatively short life-span of forty-three years Reger wrote a substantial quantity of music in virtually all the genres apart from opera, concentrating principally on keyboard and smaller-scale works. Although Reger successfully wrote some larger choral works he was in his thirties before he completed his first orchestral work. Among choral compositions the eight Geistliche Gesänge are considered especially moving, but his vocal works are not commonly performed today. Reger does however enjoy an extremely high reputation among organists to whose repertoire he made many significant contributions. Additionally he wrote many important works for the cello of which the Three Suites for Solo Cello, Op. 131 are particularly well regarded. The orchestral music is slowly becoming more numerous in the record catalogues and it is possible to track down recordings of the: Four Tone Poems after Böcklin, Op. 128; Variations and Fugue on theme of Hiller, Op.100; Variations and Fugue for Orchestra on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 123 and the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven (1915).

The years between 1905 and 1908 were a highly successful time for Regerís career. He had become the most performed composer in Germany next to Richard Strauss and was the recipient of several prestigious appointments and awards: Professor of counterpoint, composition and organ at the Munich Academy of Music; University Music Director and Conservatory Professor at the University of Leipzig, Honorary Doctorate at the University of Jena and bestowed the esteemed title of Royal Saxon Professor.

The single work on this Jecklin-Disco release is the extended four movement Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in E minor, Op. 102. A score widely admired during his lifetime, Reger composed this "rugged masterpiece" in 1908. The E minor Piano Trio is full of audacious modulations and striking dramatic gestures and together with the Piano Concerto, which appeared two years later, represents a culmination of the complex but highly evolved style that Reger had developed.

The first movement of the Trio, marked allegro moderato ma con passione, is lengthy at sixteen and a half minutes. The allegro comprises a vast array of melodic contours, chromatic harmony and rhapsodic figures. But behind all this there is a remarkable discipline of thematic and formal sonata structure although laid out on large symphonic lines. The talented players, who choose not to give a name to their ensemble, perform this movement with characterful expression. There is especially fine work from the violinist Christine Ragaz, to whom Reger gives the lionís share of the work. The rather strange short second movement allegretto is an eerie, airy piece on the line between sardonic humour and a spectral world. The inherent mysteriousness of this appealing fairytale-like movement is brought out in a confident and spontaneous manner.

The extended third movement largo is reminiscent of the ĎHermit with the Violiní from Regerís Four Tone Poems after Böcklin, Op.128. The hymn-like largo is in the style of a Reger organ prelude and sounds at times as if it could have been written by Brahms. The movement alternates between a three-phased chorale and more agitato sections whose harmonies hark back to the opening movement. The chorale has the last word and ends one of Regerís most seraphic pages. This is superbly sensitive and expressive playing from artists who perform with dream-like delicacy. The dynamic closing movement allegro has been described by John Buttrick as, "a hybrid of scherzo, burleske and serious business." The movement is bursting with ideas. With beautifully judged shaping of phrasing and dynamics the Trio demonstrate their empathy with this strongly individual music.

There is a fine alternative account of the Piano Trio, Op. 102 c/w Piano Trio in B minor, Op.2 performed by the Trio Parnussus on Dabringhaus und Grimm MDG Gold 30307512.

This Jecklin-Disco release is poorly presented. The four movements are not divided into separate tracks. There is only limited information provided about the recording and the total timing is an ungenerous forty-two minutes. On the positive side, the sound quality is of a decent standard with an especially good balance, and the booklet notes from John Buttrick are informative. The Trio perform this impressive music beautifully in what seems like a inspiring labour of love.

An excellent Reger score really well performed.
Michael Cookson


Anyone interested in learning more about Reger should visit the splendid website:


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