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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano in D minor Op.113 (1910) [37:06]
Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello and Piano in A minor Op.133 (1914) [26:35]
Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet
Wolfram Lorenzen (piano)
rec. 1998, Bauer Studio, Ludwigsburg, Germany
Piano Chamber Music Volume 3
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01415 [64;22]

Often accused of being too contrapuntal, Max Reger has been described as the twentieth century's Bach; he was, however, also capable of creating music of beauty and imagination, often traits not associated with the composer. He could be described as a transitional composer, as not only was he capable of composing works that encapsulated the great Austro-German romantic tradition, he also produced music that heralded the modernism of the twentieth century. Reger’s chamber music can be seen to demonstrate the best aspects of both these movements, combining expressivity with innovation. With his chamber music being good examples of this, you can identify the influences of both Schubert and especially Brahms on his development, whilst still trying to produce music for the early twentieth century, bringing their examples, so to speak, into the present - whilst looking forward.

This synthesis can be clearly seen in the two piano quartets, and whilst the D minor Quartet of 1910 is clearly influenced by that of Brahms, for Reger it is an attempt to find a new and more modern approach to composition whilst using the existing tonality. Rob Barnett, in his review of the MDG recording with Claudius Tanski and the Mannheimer Streichquartett (MDG 336 0715-2) states that “Its passionate auburn turbulence too often plunges into the mire of density - relenting occasionally but not often enough.” And although it does have symphonic leanings, here I disagree, although for me this recording quality is slightly dense. The recording is too quick in comparison with my other two recordings, the MDG and the Aperto Piano Quartet on Naxos (8.570785), knocking around five minutes off the mammoth first movement alone, making it more of an allegro than its Allegro moderato. I much prefer the pacing and less reverberant sound of either of my other two versions, the less hurried approach adding a little more clarity to both the clarity and the sound. The vast canvas of the opening movement is followed by the Vivace-Adagio-Vivace, which Reger himself described as a kind of “crazy scherzo.” But it is in the Larghetto third movement that the present performers take the most liberties, with it again being too fast, four and a half minutes too quick to be exact, so that it loses too much drama and pathos; instead it becomes just another moderate movement, this despite a nice presentation of the opening statement. For me, it is the final Allegro energico with its theme of shifting tonality, that offers the best music, and which is performed best here. There are many fine ideas here, I particulary like the way Reger shifts his thematic material as it leads towards the powerful coda.

The A minor Op.133 dates from four years later and is, in my thinking the finer of the two works. Again, the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet and Wolfram Lorenzen are on the swift side, shaving over ten minutes off both the MDG and Naxos versions, but here the quick tempo did not impede my enjoyment as much as in the Op.113. The passion of the first movement Allegro con passione (non troppo allegro) is still there, this despite being about two and a half minutes quicker. However, the tempo held in the slow Largo con gran espressione third movement is pushing it a little. The second and fourth movements work the best in my opinion, with the better recorded sound and balance helping the performance.

So, whilst the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet and Wolfram Lorenzen perform well together, for me, they do not surpass either of the recordings by the Aperto Piano Quartet or, my personal favourite, Claudius Tanski and the Mannheimer Streichquartett. They are also let down by a muggy recorded sound, this is especially true of the D minor Op.113. The booklet essay by Susanne Popp, in English and German is very good, and adds greatly to this disc. However, I feel that this disc will remain my third choice for these works.

Stuart Sillitoe

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