Not for the first time here, I’m going to sing the praises of Ulf Wallin. His name takes top billing on the booklet cover, sitting above even that of the composer whose music he has championed so assiduously and so lovingly over the years, Max Reger. Perhaps, all things considered, we should allow the violinist that level of elevation.
He has recorded an exceptional number of Reger discs for CPO and it’s to the Swedish violinist - whether in the vast Concerto or the solo sonatas - that many turn for enlightenment and the highest musical rewards. And so it is again here, in the case of the Op.42 solo sonatas, dedicated to Willy Burmester, also dedicatee of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto.
The four sonatas in this set are saturated so deeply in Bachian procedure that it sometimes becomes almost a hallucinatory matter listening to them. The greatest German organ composer since Bach also has a strong claim to having written the most important body of solo violin music in Germany since the sonatas and partitas. As well as absorption of Bach’s procedure, Reger also manages to invoke his own underrated sense of lyricism – sample the Allegro energico of the First Sonata in the set, where the ‘con gran espressivo’ instruction in the Adagio evokes from Wallin a wholly appropriate breadth of tone. It’s in this movement, strangely, that almost-Handelian imprints can also be felt.
When Reger defines ‘con grazia’ in the opening of the second sonata it’s the kind that requires an extreme fluency and daintiness - as well as jaunty virtuosity - that renders the instruction almost sardonic. This droll element pervades the sonatas of this set, especially this second – the lightest in spirit of the quartet of works - in which a baroque-procedure slow introduction prefaces a fizzing Prestissimo. The sonatas alternative between three and four movements - the third glories in a structure in which a Prestissimo is topped by Vivacissimo. The last of the set contains the single longest movement, an expressive slow movement lasting over ten minutes – longer in fact than the whole of the Second Sonata – that proves starkly reminiscent of the sonatas and partitas of Bach and which concludes this cycle of sonatas with an arsenal of arpeggios and voicings that transmute Bach’s precedent. In this sonata’s opening movement Wallin’s vibrato is heard at something like its widest and most oscillatory as he draws rich tone in the opening Sostenuto before launching into the succeeding Allegro energico.
In these sonatas extremes of markings – Prestissimo assai,Vivacissimo, and the like – seem to indicate excess but instead offer the wise performer opportunities for rich characterisation. Wallin takes them all. As I’ve noted previously he is here, once again, more tonally rounded and ingratiating than the more resinous and combative Renate Eggebrecht on Troubadisc. As in his previous Reger discs, Wallin proves to be the composer’s leading contemporary performer – not just for bulk of discs recorded, but for quality of performances given.