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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Works for Orchestra
CD1 [63:59]
Eine Ballettsuite op. 130 (1913) [17:56]
Konzert im alten Stil op. 123 (1912) [23:16]
Beethoven-Variationen op. 86 (1904, 1915) [22:29]
Karl Suske (violin)
Heinz Schunk (violin) (op. 123)
Staatskapelle Berlin/Otmar Suitner
rec. 1973, Original CD release 01.08.2002 as 0032242BC
CD2 [44:33]
Hiller-Variationen op. 100 (1907) [44:33]
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Franz Konwitschny
rec. 1963, Original CD release 15.03.2002 as 0032152BC
CD3 [61:31]
Mozart-Variationen op. 132 (1914) [32:23]
Vier Tondichtungen nach A. Böcklin op. 128 (1913) [28:57]
Walter Hartwich (violin) (Böcklin)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Heinz Bongartz (Böcklin)
Dresdner Philharmonie/Heinz Bongartz
rec. 1970, 1965, Original CD release 18.06.1994 as 0021772BC
CD4 [74:14]
Sinfonietta op. 9 (1905) [50:10]
An die Hoffnung op. 124 (1912) [11:54]
Hymnus der Liebe op. 136 (1914) [11:57]
Annelies Burmeister (alto) (opp. 124, 136)
Günter Siering (violin) (op. 9)
Dresdner Philharmonie/Heinz Bongartz (Sinfonietta)
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig/Heinz Bongartz
rec. 1973, 1969, Original CD release 01.08.2002 as 0032232BC
CD5 [57:40]
Violinkonzert A-Dur op. 101 (1908) [57:40]
Manfred Scherzer (violin)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. 1984, Original CD release 12.03.1996 as 0091242BC
CD6 [52:31]
Konzert für Klavier und Orchester f-Moll (1910) [52:31]
Amadeus Webersinke (piano)
Dresdner Philharmonie/Günther Herbig
rec. 1973, Original CD release 15.04.2002 as 0002532CCC
CD7 [41:45]
Symphonischer Prolog zu einer Tragödie op. 108 (1908) [26:02]
Eine romantische Suite op. 125 (1912) [26:19]
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin/Heinz Rögner
rec. 1974, Original CD release 12.10.1995 as 0031192BC
Rec. 1963-1984. DDR. ADD
BERLIN CLASSICS - EDEL 0183992BC [7 CDs: 63:59 + 44:33 + 61:31 + 74:14 + 57:40 + 41:45 + 52:31]

Reger is not the composer invariably to receive the Big Box treatment but here is one courtesy of a compilation of orchestral works from Berlin Classics. Konwitschny should rouse some interest – and also alert one as to the relative age of some of the recordings – but with Suitner, Blomstedt and Herbig aboard, alongside Bongartz and Rögner, one is assured of at least very serviceable readings and at best top class ones. There are plenty of single discs of much of this repertoire around but Berlin Classics’ seven-disc set comes at a very tempting price.
A Ballet Suite sounds a little like Elgar in heraldic mood in the Tempo di Marcia but elsewhere we meet Reger the lyricist whose instrumentation is light, apt and supportive (contrast with the occasional purgatory of other works). Pierrot and Pierrette is a delight with its deft solo for cello and even if we get some Johann Straussisms in the Waltz this is still a charmingly elegant and warmly (if anything under-) scored work. Concerto in the Old Style dates from the halcyon days of 1912. The winds are pert, the air is full of neo-classicism, the soloists have little capricious or extrovert to do and the slow movement is the high point. This is a genuinely warm Largo but almost anti-modernist in its outlook with a concerto grosso role for Heinz Schunk and Karl Suske. The theme for the Beethoven Variations is derived from the Bagatelles Op.119 No.11. It’s expertly laid out but leaves no real impression – even the six minute concluding Fugue which sounds, in the context, academic to the point of parody - though that seems unlikely.   
The Hiller Variations are in Konwitschny’s very able hands. There’s wonderful élan to the Leipzig string playing as there is real delicacy and wind tracery in the second variation. The brass are resplendent but never selfish in the vivace of the fourth variation and the rhythm is energising indeed in the tenth. The concluding Fugue is here a real winner and this performance does it justice – ten minutes of expertly laid out fugal writing exceptionally well played by the Leipzig forces. If you’re partial at all to the old Keilberth recording you will like this one.
From Hiller to the Mozart Variations, which uses variations on the Piano Sonata K331. Lissom and grand these are genuinely enjoyable and the very opposite of forbidding. Listen to the warmth of the horns in the Seventh Variation or the Dresden players’ curdly wind playing throughout. Coupled with it is rather stronger fare, the four Böcklin Tone Poems, once again with Bongartz and the Dresden Staatskapelle. To be blunt this, as a performance, can’t really measure up to the classic 1967 Schmitt-Isserstedt though it does have virtues of its own. There’s a lovely violin solo in the first of the poems as well as some warmly expressive playing all round. The springy scherzo – At Play In The Waves – is suffused with brass colour whereas the slow movement (The Isle of the Dead) is suitably solemn and replete with ominous percussion rolls and a desolate, highly effective narrative colour. Only the concluding Bacchanalia is a let-down, a rather leaden affair that other performances have given greater verve.
The Sinfonietta Op.90 is a clotted, Brahmsian work and far too long at fifty minutes for its own musical good.  The little rustic motifs that lighten the opening do, it’s true, ease the heaviness but the general density is exemplified by the gauntly Teutonic Scherzo whose attempts at the balletic are stymied by galumphing basses. An die Hoffnung is a twelve-minute setting for alto and orchestra and has its fair share of (Richard) Straussisms and we also get a similarly lengthy Hymnus der liebe for baritone or alto (here the latter), which is suffused with Tristan and fin-de-siècle despair.
Disc four gives us the Violin Concerto played by Manfred Scherzer, a very fine player on this showing. He also has plenty of stamina as its fifty-seven minute length makes the Elgar look positively Lilliputian. This is the concerto that Adolf Busch, famously, re-orchestrated later in life and if Busch, a great advocate of Reger’s, had his doubts then so should we. The concerto is over-stated and over-orchestrated certainly but it has its moments. There are Brahmsian traits throughout, some Sibelian passagework from 12.45 in the first movement and Wagnerian shadings in the central movement. Songful and lyric it gives plenty of opportunities to the soloist, especially in the big first movement cadenza - where Scherzer’s lower strings don’t quite sing out optimally. The main problems are those of prolixity, lack of orchestral continuity and a prose-poem effect in the slow movement. The finale harks to Brahms and through him to Beethoven. 
The Piano Concerto occupies disc six. This was for a long time the property of Busch’s son-in-law, Rudolf Serkin, insofar as it was anyone’s. His CBS recording of it was really the only way one could hear it. The strings here are – or as recorded are – a touch glassy but that’s not too much of a deterrent. The orchestration is superior to that of the Violin Concerto and the material is more biting and instantly memorable. The rhythmic attaca in the first movement is engaging, even if most of it is courtesy of Brahms. The central movement has warmth and a sense of space, a delicate kind of gravity – it’s much more concise and practical than the Violin Concerto in this respect – and the finale exudes a rude and rather clod-hopping vitality, very attractively conveyed by Amadeus Webersinke.
The final disc brings us the Symphonic Prologue for a Tragedy. One should note that this Radio-Symphony Orchestra Berlin/Rögner recording is of the shortened version (Albrecht for instance has recorded the full version). Brooding, driving, eminently High Romantic, in part quite stolid, but passionately affirmative in its ending, this makes for a powerful disc-opener, even if it is the abridged version. Then there’s the Romantic Suite, which dates from 1912, four years after the Symphonic Prologue. This is by turns effulgent and sprightly, a warm and balmy piece that receives a finely nuanced reading from Rögner and his Berlin forces. If you’re unfamiliar with much of Reger you’d do worse than to start here – the orchestration is subtle, the evocative sound-world impressive, the studied academic side of things largely absent.
The dedication of the performances is palpable. True, not everything is at the top of the pile but the alternative is to scrabble around for individual discs. This boxed set gives you a permanently useful collection, well notated and often splendidly recorded. Recording quality does vary across the years but is never less than acceptable – often much more so than that. In short, this is a definite case of value for money.
Jonathan Woolf  

see also review by Rob Barnett





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