Max REGER (1873-1916)
Complete Music for Clarinet and Piano
Sonata in A flat Major Op. 49 No. 1 [18:30]
Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 49 No. 2 [18:58]
Sonata in B flat Major Op. 107 [28:11]
Albumblatt in E-flat Major [1:21]
Tarantella in G Minor [1:45]
Claudio Conti (clarinet)
Roberta Bambace (piano)
rec. Monteverdi Auditorium, Conservatory of Music, Mantua, Italy, January-February 2015
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95258 [69:30]
Whilst Max Reger has been referred to as the Bach of the twentieth century due to his organ works, he also composed some wonderful chamber music. If his music for cello and piano has held the limelight, his sonatas for clarinet and piano seem to be catching up in recent years with some very fine recordings appearing.
For the purpose of this review I will mainly be comparing this new recording with its principal competitor at budget price, namely the recording of the three sonatas made by Janet Hilton and Jakob Fichert for Naxos (8.572173) from 2010.
At first glance this CD looks a very attractive proposition, offering not only the three sonatas, but also two short pieces for clarinet and piano.
The sonatas were inspired by those of Reger’s hero, Brahms, but that is where the inspiration ends. Although romantic in nature, these three works have an originality and character that clearly stamps them out as being composed by a twentieth century composer. All three are cast in four movements with the first two being composed in the spring of 1900 after Reger had been introduced to Brahms’s Clarinet Sonata in F minor Op. 120 No. 1. The Sonata in A flat Major Op. 49 No. 1 is relatively high-spirited, which is in contrast to the Sonata in F sharp minor Op. 49 No. 2, which is more meditative and elegant in style. My personal favourite and certainly the most significant of the three is the Sonata in B flat Major Op. 107, which was completed in 1909 shortly after he had composed one of his most famous orchestral works, the Symphonic Prologue to a Tragedy Op. 108. Reger described the Sonata as “a very light and friendly piece, not long at all, so that the character of the sound of the wind instrument does not tire” and this despite it being the longest of the three. In all the sonatas Conti and Bambace tend to be on the brisk side in comparison to Hilton and Fichert on Naxos, whose CD is ten minutes longer and they don’t even include the two short pieces. This higher tempo does tend to accentuate the lightness and “friendly” character of the first and third sonatas but does detract a little from the more elegant second sonata.
The two accompanying pieces that make up Reger’s complete works for clarinet and piano could be described as short salon works. They were composed around 1902 and this is where the present disc wins over the Naxos. Yes they are short but they are nevertheless miniature gems. Again, Conti and Bambace tend to be on the brisk side in comparison with Lux Brahn and Richard Laugs, who also offer the Sonata in B flat Major Op. 107, on a Da Camera Magna CD (DaCa 77 505), with the recording of the Albumblatt in this new recording being a little too fast for my liking.
Whilst Conti and Bambace play this wonderful music well, if a bit fast, they are let down by the recorded sound which is a real shame as this disc otherwise has a lot going for it. I am not sure if the engineers have got the balance wrong or if the microphones are too close to the piano. Whatever the case the piano sounds a bit bright and even brash at times. This leads me to favour Hilton and Fichert over this new recording in the sonatas.