Max REGER (1873-1916)
Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra
Romance Op.50 No.1 in G Major [8:53]
Romance Op.50 No.2 in D Major [7:47]
Violin Concerto Op.101 in A Major (orch. Adolph Busch) [26:51]
Aria Op.103a No.3 in A Major [6:02]
Kolja Lessing (violin)
Göttingen Symphony Orchestra/Christoph-Mathias Mueller
rec. Athanasiuskirche, Hannover, 8-10 September 2009 and 6-7 July 2010. stereo.
TELOS MUSIC TLS097 [78:56]
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 music's clarity.
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 Blomstedt (review
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 movements.
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
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.
Richly melodic and perfectly formed.