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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Seven Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin, Op. 91
Renate Eggebrecht (violin)
rec. January to April 1999, Bauer Studios, Ludwigsburg, Germany
TROUBADISC TRO-CD 01416 [98:58]

Having in my collection a number of Renate Eggebrecht’s fine recordings of Max Reger’s complete solo violin music, I am sure that as an artist and interpreter she has a real feeling for it. She has done more than most to further the cause of the composer and his music. Despite her championing, amongst other works, his music for solo violin, these stately sonatas, as with many of Reger’s works, remain stubbornly outside the list of mainstream compositions, so only occasionally receive outings on disc or in the concert hall. Indeed, I have never seen them programmed in any concert near me. This is a real shame, as these fine works deserve to be heard and this recording by Renate Eggebrecht is the ideal vehicle to help Reger’s Sieben Sonaten für die Violine allein Op. 91 achieve greater fame.

Not many performers, either before or since, have undertaken the task of recording all of Reger’s solo violin music, but this endeavour was obviously a labour of love for Eggebrecht, as can be seen by the quality of the performance - which has led me to return to all of her Reger recordings whether for solo violin or for larger groupings.

These seven sonatas are an important addition to the catalogue of solo violin pieces and should not be overlooked, especially as Reger’s oft-quoted over reliance on counterpoint is less in evidence here. The booklet essay opens with the quotation from Reger dated 1st December 1905: “I have now written a seventh solo sonata for the violin: after all, Bach wrote 6; if I now do 6 solo sonatas myself, the cry will go up straight away that I got stuck on the number ‘6’!” This shows that despite his devotion to Bach, he was no slavish copyist, which can be seen by the music itself. These are well balanced and rewarding works which look backwards, but with early twentieth century eyes. It is clear that Reger composed the first six sonatas with his hero I mind, but this is clearly music of a later generation; the opening bars of the Seventh Sonata show that Reger's ambitions here are rather larger than the six companion works, making this sonata stand out from the rest. Here, the influences on the music are not restricted to Bach alone, but the likes of Mozart and Schubert also make their presence felt, with more than a nod to the Italian school, which for me makes the Op. 91 Sonatas the finest of Reger’s solo violin works. Yet these are no mere pastiches; rather, these are original works evidenced by the past. Reger is looking beyond his idol and finding new and challenging techniques which he applies to the music, especially in these seven sonatas, which are rich with references to the baroque, classical and Romantic periods – all of which makes this some of the most important music for solo violin since Bach. The opening Allegro Moderato movement of the e minor Sonata No. 5 is clearly influenced by Italian baroque violin writing, while the second and fourth Sonatas have a certain humour - try the Vivacissimo final movement of the second. However, it is in the A minor Sonata No. 7 that the composer comes to the fore. Here, especially in the wonderful Grave finale - which is in reality a Chaconne - the soaring melody marks this out as something special, pointing to the future.

This is a performance to savour and endlessly enjoy; Eggebrecht is clearly at home in the more baroque-orientated passages, and her violin sings in the more melodious writing such as that finale to No. 7. I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to this two- disc set, but on each listening I find that Eggebrecht brings to the fore another little nuance I had previously missed. Indeed, it is only through repeated hearings that you come fully to appreciate the beauty not only of Eggebrecht’s performance but also the music itself. As usual with Troubadisc releases, we get thoroughly researched booklet notes and good recorded sound, which only add to the listener’s enjoyment.

Stuart Sillitoe

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