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The Welte-Mignon Mystery -Volume 5
Max REGER (1873-1916)

Variations and Fugue on a theme by Telemann Op.134 (1914) [22:38] ¹
Silhouettes

No.2 [3:01]
No.3 [3:19]
Aus meinem Tagebuch Op.72 (1912)
Book 1
No.3 [4:15]
No.5 [3:59]
No.6 [3:35]
No.10 [3:14]
No.11 [4:40]
Five Humoresques Op.20 (1898)
No.5 [2:30]
Six Intermezzi Op.45 (1900)
No.3 [3:36]
No.5 [3:21]
Max Reger (piano)
Frieda Kwast-Hodapp (piano) ¹
Piano rolls recorded 1905 (Reger) and 1920 (Frieda Kwast-Hodapp)
TACET 152 [59:21]

 

In my review of Tacet’s release of Strauss’s Welte-Mignon rolls I commented that their reproducing piano sounds in fine estate; there were no off-putting noises, no noisy action and the piano sounded in tune - review. They have kept up the good work here. The reproduction and the excellent piano chosen for this role are welcome aspects of a series that has done its utmost to present these rolls in their best musical light.

The vexed question of the piano roll is one that is endemic to the system and the more releases there are on CD – Naxos, Tudor, Pierian and Tacet have their own series as do other companies – the more the issue will be aired. Not that it’s lacked airing in the past of course. Given that I have had my say in each of the many roll discs I have reviewed it might be as well to draw a succinct view for newcomers to the system. Clearly the considerable controversy that the player piano has engendered over the years will not simply disappear. Because some of the processes were somewhat opaque and because the level of "post-editing" and manual intervention is unknown some critics have exercised considerable caution in the claims made on behalf of the system, whether Welte-Mignon or Ampico or any other of the many companies that produced such rolls. Others have welcomed the recordings on the "more the merrier" principle. My own feeling is that the layer of mechanical intervention causes insurmountable problems but that we should still willingly listen to them for any light they may shine on the pianists concerned. Such was the case when I reviewed the rolls of the American Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler, who made no disc recordings. In such a case the piano rolls were, however imperfectly, an important component of her legacy.

Here we have Reger, a strong upholder of his tradition and lineage of piano playing. With him as fellow performer is a trusted executant, Frieda Kwast-Hodapp, who performs the only extended piece in the set, the Variations and Fugue on a theme by Telemann. This was a work dedicated to her husband, James Kwast, a famous performer and pedagogue. A year later Reger dedicated his Concerto to Frieda, so impressed had he been by her playing. Recorded for Welte-Mignon in 1920, six years after it had been composed, the performance of the Variations indicates something of Kwast-Hodapp’s obvious stature. It’s also of note that she performs her own edition, something to which Reger seems to have willingly acceded; there are some cuts therefore but the basic structure remains intact. Salient features of the performance are its rhythmic latitude, though how much of this can be ascribed to her rubato and how much to the inevitably mechanical nature of the roll system is open to doubt. To my ears some of the phrasing is impossibly lumpen.

Reger performs the rest of the items, small pieces from various collections. The reflective romanticism of the second of his Silhouettes survives the transition from touch to roll. And the nagging left hand and evocative right give the fifth (a moderato) of his Aus meinem Tagebuch a strongly defined shape. But the eleventh of the set sounds stodgy and deficient, betrayed by the system Reger sought to preserve his intentions. Even the carnal Lisztian energy of the fifth of his Six Intermezzi fails really to register as it should.

Nevertheless this disc does preserve something of Reger’s poeticism, albeit highly compromised, and does make one wonder what kind of Regerian tradition could have been established by such as Kwast-Hodapp who died in 1949 and the age of sixty-nine.

Jonathan Woolf

 


 



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