They're like London buses, recordings of the Reger Violin Concerto:
you wait decades for one and then suddenly two turn up at once.
This recording from Kolja Lessing has had far less publicity
in the UK than its rival, from Tanja Becker-Bender on Hyperion
(CDA67892 - see review),
but from the samples I've been able to hear of the latter on
the internet, they seem to be of comparable quality.
Lessing has an interesting gimmick up his sleeve, in that he,
or rather the Göttingen Symphony Orchestra that accompanies
him, use the orchestration by Adolf Busch for the first time
on a commercial recording. Given the almost continuous criticism
of Reger's music during his lifetime, it is surprising that
none of his other works have been subject to similar posthumous
revision. Busch's concerns about the concerto focus on the density
of the orchestration, and in an effort to rectify matters he
drastically reduced the textures in an effort to improve the
Any possible increase in clarity can only be at the expense
of the music's sweeping symphonic breadth, and that is a high
price to pay. Much like Reger's Piano Concerto, the Violin Concerto
uses its orchestral forces to highly dramatic ends, so reducing
the numbers completely changes the atmosphere. It would be an
exaggeration to say that chamber music textures result, but
thinning down the orchestra does make the tuttis more linear
and less chordal.
Personally, I don't think any of this is necessary. The best
recordings of the work, and I'm thinking primarily of the one
by Manfred Scherzer and the Staatskapelle Berlin under Herbert
have all the clarity you could want. Although Reger does occasionally
go to town in the orchestral tuttis, he is always careful to
reduce the accompanying textures beneath the solo violin. Although
Busch's version was popular in its day, thanks largely to his
own performances, it seems obvious why nobody has since chosen
to record it before now.
That said, the reduced textures certainly suit Lessing's tone.
He is an agile violinist, but he's not the sort to go to the
extremes of dynamics that the original orchestration would require.
His sound is precise and focussed, although his phrasing and
rubato always keep the music lively and unpredictable. Mueller
ups the tempos slightly from those on other recordings, something
he is at greater liberty to do given the reduced textures. So
this version of the work is given a good showing for its first
time on disc, but I remain unconvinced that it is in any way
better than the original.
Like Becker-Bender, Lessing couples the Concerto with the Two
Romances Op.50. These are given excellent performances by orchestra
and soloist alike, and the roundness of tone that is so frustratingly
absent in the Concerto is apparent throughout these two short
The disc ends with another interesting coupling, the Aria Op.103a
no.3, which is also apparently given its first commercial recording
here. The piece was originally written for violin and piano,
but the orchestral version is the composer's own. It is very
much in the wistful, nostalgic spirit of the Romances, and it
is a mystery why they should have fared so much better than
it on record up till now. The work has an exceptionally integrated
structure, its six minutes playing out as a single arch of melody
without any award hiatuses or transitions. Again, Lessing's
focused but never pedantic approach is ideal, and even when
the music peaks to a crescendo, he retains a valuable sense
of intimacy in his playing.
Reger's output was certainly variable, but it was also very
large, so it is encouraging to make a discovery like this, a
richly melodic and perfectly formed piece that has hitherto
been unknown to the record industry. Here is hoping that performers
of the calibre of Lessing and Mueller continue their search
and uncover more such gems for us in the future.