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Max Reger (1873-1916)
Piano Transcriptions, Volume 7
Complete Bach transcriptions for piano two hands by Max Reger
Markus Becker (piano)
rec. September 2008, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Complete tracklist at end of review
HYPERION CDA67683 [55:03 + 55:16]
Experience Classicsonline

Maybe Max Reger is better known for the best ever response of an artist to a critic than any of his works. What a shame… although his famous quip is so good that it bears repeating again, even if you’ve heard it a couple times before: “I sit in the smallest room of my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon I will have it behind me.” Snap.

It’s not the only invective hurled by or at Reger. Bartók, Schoenberg, and Prokofiev were fond of his music, but for every fan he had a couple of vociferous detractors. Joseph Way summarized well-known stories when he wrote that “Reger drank, ate, smoked and composed to excess. His critics charge that he wrote too much music and that his music contained too many notes.” The intemperance only ended when Reger’s body gave in on 11 May 1916, after just 43 years of excess.

Last year, I had the dubious pleasure of listening to one of the Reger suites for solo viola (mostly the G minor) almost three dozen times in three days. After that, I was ready to join the chorus of vociferous Reger detractors. Fond memories associated with Reger kept me from making the leap, though. His marriage of counterpoint to high romantic, his love and understanding of Bach, the transcriptions of Bach’s and his own works - the Suite for Organ op.16 is perhaps an even greater masterpiece in the version for four pianos - and a slew of ambitious, surprisingly easily appreciable orchestral works all count heavily in his favor.

Hyperion has now hit upon Reger in its seventh volume of Bach Piano Transcriptions with 110 minutes of transcribed organ works. “Complete”, as collectors will know, can be a relative term. And although Hyperion claims to have included the “complete Bach transcriptions by Max Reger” on these two discs (for the price of one), that’s true only if you add “… for two hands”. Because the Four Hand transcriptions (most notably of the Passacaglia, the Orchestral Suites, and the Brandenburg Concertos) are obviously not included here and - more distressingly - apparently won’t be added to the series. You will have to go to Speidel-Trenkner on MDG (two 2 CD sets) for those works. Especially the Passacaglia transcription, when well played, rivals (maybe surpasses?) the original - and the orchestral suites are stunning, too.

The rest is in very good hands with Markus Becker, a Reger-veteran who has recorded Reger’s complete piano works for Thorofon and - discussed below - the Cello Sonatas For Hyperion. Whether the delicacy of a small scale work like “Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (BWV 639) or the massive “St. Anne” and “Wedge” Preludes & Fugues (BWV 552 in E flat major and BWV 548 in E minor, respectively), Becker is on top of the technical as well as the expressive demands. Only the (“famous”) Toccata & Fuge in D minor starts out sounding a little underpowered … but that’s not something to lay at Becker’s feet than Reger’s… and in any case an impression that wanes as the cumulative power of the transcriptions builds up.

The piano neutralizes a little of the edge that organs can have to ears that are not predisposed to it. As such, these very literal transcriptions are a milder, gentler way to take in 110 minutes of Bach organ works than they would be in the original. The technical term, I believe, is: more “wife-suitable”; of course a Reger/Bach obsession is not exclusive to husbands, nor prolonged organ-music irritations a purely female phenomenon, but the term is conveniently expressive. If you are new to Bach transcriptions, whether by Reger or others, I’d recommend to start elsewhere: either with Reger’s four-hand transcription of the Passacaglia or with volume 2of this excellent series, featuring the more flamboyant Busoni transcriptions. If you know what you are getting into, you will find nothing but delight here.

Jens F. Laurson

The complete Bach transcriptions for solo piano by Max Reger 
CD 1
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV532 (Movement 1: Prelude [5'26]; Movement 2: Fugue [6'19])
O Mensch, bewein' dein' Sünde gross, BWV622 [6'26]
Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, BWV637 [1'52]
Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig, BWV644 [0'56]
Nun danket alle Gott, BWV657 [4'14]
Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV727 [1'46]
Wenn wir in höchsten Noten sein 'Vor deinen Thron tret ich', BWV668 [3'22]
Valet will ich dir geben, BWV736 [3'35]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, BWV638 [1'52]
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV730 [2'06]
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, BWV606 [0'41]
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major 'St Anne', BWV552 (Movement 1: Prelude [8'38]; Movement 2: Fugue [6'42])

CD 2
Prelude and Fugue in E minor 'The wedge', BWV548 (Prelude [7'35]; Movement 2: Fugue [8'53])
Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV Anh 171 [4'05] Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), arr. Reger
Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV639 [2'48]
An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV653b [4'17]
Komm, heiliger Geist Herre Gott, BWV651 [6'21]
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV654 [6'47]
Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV614 [2'56]
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565 ( [10'42]) 



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