RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Piano Concerto in F minor Op 114 (1910) [37.23]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske in D minor (1885-86) [19.25]
Marc-Andre Hamelin (Piano)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Ilan Volkov
rec. Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin, 16-18 March 2010
HYPERION CDA67635 [56.53]
Reger described his F minor concerto as “a pendant to Brahms’ D minor piano concerto”. It has many features in common with the Brahms although it lacks the thematic inventiveness and lyrical beauty of the earlier work. A very technically demanding piece, it was written for the German pianist Frida Kwast-Hodapp who introduced many piano works by Reger and Busoni to the public. The young Rudolf Serkin championed the work although very few pianists followed Serkin’s lead. More recently Oppitz and Douglas have recorded it and Douglas also couples the work with the Strauss Burleske.
The first movement, like the Brahms D minor, begins with a timpani roll. The thematic material is very dense and earnest and Hamelin and Volkov treat the movement in a symphonic way with the piano and orchestra acting as equal partners. At almost 18 minutes, it is a very long movement and both pianist and orchestra do an excellent job in referencing the overarching sonata-form structure. Hamelin’s handling of the extremely demanding pyrotechnics is absolutely astonishing particularly given the length of the concerto and the fact that the technical demands are fairly unrelenting.
Hamelin’s tone and phrasing are immaculate in the slow movement and there is some rather lovely dialogue and interplay between pianist and orchestra. I thought Hamelin could perhaps have allowed the piano to sing a little more in this movement and adopted a slightly warmer tone in some of the lush romantic melodies. He captures perfectly the quirky character of the angular opening theme of the finale. Again the fiendish manual challenges are surmounted with ease and a sense of structure is evident. Hamelin also uses a considerable range of tone colour and is highly inventive in the way he characterises the thematic material in the last movement.
Strauss’s Burleske is a very different work to the Reger. It is more light-hearted and with more immediately appealing thematic material: more of a whimsical homage to Brahms than a successor work. It is in one movement and, like the Reger, is a very technically demanding work. Many great pianists have played the Burleske including Argerich, Arrau, Backhaus, Gould, Gulda, Janis, Richter and Serkin. I particularly like Gulda’s recording and that of his most distinguished pupil, Martha Argerich.
Hamelin’s recording is every bit as good as any of the above and it is clear that this is a work which he absolutely relishes playing. Pianist and conductor are as one with the orchestra taking more of an accompanying role and with the orchestral textures much lighter and crisper. Hamelin’s passage-work was perfectly breathtaking throughout, with Hamelin clearly relishing the playful and whimsical nature of the material. He also brought out the lyrical beauty of the waltz episode and allowed the music to breathe in a very sensuous way. The final cadenza was nothing less than a tour de force. Altogether, this is an absolutely outstanding recording.