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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Sieben Präludien & Fugen, Chaconne Op.117 für Violine Solo (1909-1912)
Renate Eggebrecht (violin)
rec. 2001, Tonstudio Teije van Geest, Clara Wieck Auditorium, Heidelberg-Sandhausen, Germany
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01425 [59:37]

I disliked the Troubadisc recording of the Piano Quartets (review), mainly because the sound made the exciting fast-tempo performance a little muggy. This recording has no such problem. I first listened to Renate Eggebrecht’s fine recording of the Op. 42 Sonatas for Solo Violin (TRO-CD 01422), and it made me want to hear this disc all the more.

Reger is often regarded as too contrapuntal. Much of his music shows a great indebtedness to that of his musical hero Johann Sebastien Bach. That led to his moniker as the ‘Bach of the twentieth century’. This music is no different: a set of preludes and fugues, and a chaconne.

By the time Reger began to compose his Preludes and Fugues in 1909, he had already composed two sets of sonatas for solo violin Opp. 42 and 91, so he was well-versed in writing for the solo instrument. As many of his groups of pieces, this set was not composed in a single year, just brought together later under a single opus number. The first Prelude & Fugue were composed as a German musician and composers’ response to the Sicilian earthquake and subsequent tsunami of December 1908 (it left devastation in its wake and killed around 100,000 people). Reger had intended to compose a work for piano. His friendship with the French violin virtuoso Henri Marteau – who had been a champion of Reger and his music – made he write a piece for solo violin instead. It is a great opening to the set. In an early review of the work, the critic Eugen Segnitz described it as having “a certain melancholy colouring of the tonal language, intermingled with some passionate nuances”.

If we jump to No. 4, we find why this set is often referred to as ‘eight Preludes and Fugues’, despite the fact that Op. 117, No. 4, is actually the Chaconne. The fourth Prelude & Fugue is really numbered Op. 117, No. 5. No matter the confusion, what is certain is that this piece stands out from the rest. It is clearly one of Reger’s finest work, if not his masterpiece for solo violin. Composed in 1912, it updates the baroque form, giving it a new strength and power, as Reger expands the traditional baroque tonal palette. (I now have three versions of the Chaconne, each with a different approach and tempo. At 18:40, Philipp Naegele on Da Camera Magna DaCa 77 515 is too slow, especially compared to Benjamin Schmid on Ondine ODE 12032, who at 10:12 goes too far the other way. At 13:27, Renate Eggebrecht gets the tempo just right.)

Of the remaining three works, the fourth Prelude and Fuge, No. 5 in the set, is interesting. It is based on a themes taken from Bach’s organ Fantasia in G BWV 572 and the Fugue in G BWV 541. I particularly like how Reger develops the thematic material of the Prelude of No. 7. I also like the way that the Prelude No. 8 is partially related to the First Prelude, thus giving the set a semi-cyclical feel; it also looks forward to Reger’s more expressive tonal range that he would express in his slightly later music.

This is a very enjoyable and entertaining disc. Eggebrecht has recorded a lot of Reger’s chamber music, and this experience shows. It is only that Piano Quartet disc that I have found not to my liking. She is blessed with a better acoustic and recorded sound, and that helps with the enjoyment. The booklet notes by Jürgen Schaarwächter of the Max Reger Institute Karlsruhe are excellent, with detailed and incisive insights into Reger and his music. A highly recommended disc for all fans of Reger and perhaps those of Bach’s contrapuntal style.

Stuart Sillitoe

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