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CD: Crotchet

Max REGER (1873-1916)
Clarinet Quintet in A major, Op. 146 [33:38]
String Sextet in F major, Op. 118 [38:13]
Ensemble Villa Musica
rec. 20-21 May (Quintet), 13-14 October (Sextet) 2008, Ehemaliges Ackerhaus der Abtei Marienmünster
Experience Classicsonline

Max Reger was a prolific composer, but he also died young, at the age of just 43. The Clarinet Quintet, in fact, was his last completed work. Because he was so prolific there have been many misconceptions about him, the kind of misconceptions that generally are made before even a note of his music has been heard. The unkindest jibe of all is the old joke that his music, like his name, sounds the same backwards or forwards. 

Nothing could be further from the truth, as these excellent performances will testify. The Clarinet Quintet is an autumnal work, certainly inspired by the example of Brahms, and cast in the same key as Mozart’s Quintet that suits the instrument so well. Reger’s composition stands worthily alongside them both. If this claim seems extravagant, just listen to the Reger’s magical opening paragraph.

The role of the clarinet is never concertante in nature; that is not Reger’s intention. Rather his preference is to create a partnership of equals, a beautiful blending. Thus the tone is intimate, and this performance is wholly committed to his cause, with recorded sound which is unquestionably appropriate to chamber music. The warmth of the sound seems just right, while the Ensemble Villa Musica capture the spirit of the music to perfection. Rhythmically their performance is slightly more vital than their chief CD rival, the Naxos recording with Wenzel Fuchs, and the Philharmonia Quartet of Berlin (Naxos 8.554510). Both performances do Reger justice, but this new one has that little bit more variety, and Ulf Rodenshäuser is a first-rate clarinetist.

Whereas the Naxos CD has Reger’s Fourth String Quartet as the coupling to the Quintet, MDG offer another chamber work, the String Sextet of 1910-11. This too is a substantial piece, nearly forty minutes in duration, closely organised music of great sincerity and sufficient variety to sustain such a span. There is a rich string sound, well recorded, and the slow movement, Largo con gran espressione, is the jewel in the crown, the heart of the work in every conceivable sense. The Villa Musica players create a sonority that itself is satisfying, but Reger’s subtle musical development will prove more rewarding with each new acquaintance.

Terry Barfoot 


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