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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op.101 (1908) [56:26]
Suite in A minor Op.103a: Aria for violin and orchestra (1908) [4:54]
Ulf Wallin (violin)
Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
rec. January 2011, Munich, BR Studio1
CPO 777 736-2 [61:24]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op.101 (1908) [53:31]
Preludes and Fugues: Op.117 No.4 Chaconne (1910) [10:12]
Benjamin Schmid (violin)
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/Hannu Lintu
rec. April 2012, Tampere Hall
ONDINE ODE1203-2 [63:56]

Regerians can rejoice that two recordings of the Violin Concerto appear at the same time, though they were recorded over a year apart. Swedish violinist Ulf Wallin has gone to Munich to record his version, whilst Austrian fiddler Benjamin Schmid has travelled to Finland. Thus, in a geographical switcheroo, Austro-Germany and Scandinavia are entwined in an effort to promote Reger’s long and sometimes thorny Concerto.
Which recording to get? Readers who are attracted to Reger’s music- it was news to me that he was seven foot tall, as one set of notes tells us - will know that Wallin is the reigning violin propagandist on disc for the composer’s music. Only recently I reviewed his recording of the Violin Sonatas, and his playing, as ever, was superbly persuasive and idiomatic. Schmid is the lesser-known Reger player, though he’s clearly been working on the concerto for some time. His repertoire is eclectic and I’ve reviewed his Paganini/Kreisler and Korngold discs.
Fortunately he and Wallin take distinct positions in this concerto, and those are mirrored by their respective conductors and the sound quality of the two labels. Wallin has a taut, silvery tone, one of considerable purity and not overmuch breadth. Schmid is the more obviously glamorous player, with a rich sheen to his tone, and his expressive position changes are the more self-conscious. Wallin, therefore, plays with more intimate romantic innocence, if you will, and Schmid with more public self-confidence. This, to an important degree, defines their approach to the work.
The long first movement is the most problematic of the three. It’s as long, or even longer, than the other two movements combined, in much the same way that the Elgar Concerto, written only a couple of years later, reverses the idea with its long finale. It’s really a question of which expressive position you prefer in this work and, in the central movement, whether you prefer Wallin’s more relaxed tempo or Schmid’s somewhat more hasty one. The nature of the ‘con gran espressione’ Reger demands will also affect your position. In terms of gesture, Schmid is the more obviously emotive, but Wallin’s greater tempo breadth lacks nothing in communicativeness. In the finale Schmid turns the tables and outpaces Wallin, bringing the ‘ma con spirito’ indication to life. Hannu Lintu is as one with his soloist here, but then Ulf Schirmer responds similarly to Wallin, for whom a certain doggedly amusing rhythm is the platform for the finale’s wit. For Wallin, it’s the manipulation of Regerian rhythm that conveys the spirit; for Schmid it’s rather more terpsichorean energy.
There are the two fillers to consider, both with Bachian elements. Wallin plays the Aria extracted from the Suite in A minor Op.103a. Adolf Busch, that most devoted performer of the composer’s work, played it at Reger’s funeral. Schmid plays the more extensive and interesting, to be frank, Chaconne from the set of Preludes and Fugues, Op.117.
A word about sound quality: CPO’s SACD sound has necessary breadth but it is very detailed. This clarity suits the performance. Ondine’s sound is rather warmer, and, again, and not coincidentally, this suits Schmid’s more overtly romanticist approach to the concerto.
I don’t feel I’ve helped with a selection. Add to the mix Kolja Lessing’s Telos disc of the concerto and Tanja Becker-Bender’s Hyperion disc and we have a real conundrum. I do however think these two newcomers are the best of the recent quartet. In the end it’s an expressive question and if a choice is required, then my own preference is for Wallin and Schirmer.
Jonathan Woolf