Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Max REGER (1873-1916) The Nuns, Songs for Contralto and Orchestra.    Lioba Braun (contralto) Choir and Orchestra of the Bamberg Symphony KOCH SCHWANN 3-1777-2 [76:15]
Save around 22% with



Reger composed The Nuns in 1909. The orchestral colouring is quite magical; what other composer can weave such a spell around music of stillness and serenity? Reger is a master of the fragrant, the delicate and the gossamer stranded forms. Reger's evocative opening of The Nuns is typical; the text tells us that 'Little bells of silver swining (?) through the temple grove resound', and there they are - pious little bells, with birdsong, just audible against a background of utter peacefulness. The work proceeds contrasting, more and more intensely, with a full orchestra and mixed choir, the more turbulent and passionate music indicative of such lines as 'Once again the voices lifted tell of mingled hope and fear', against the slower, simple sincere supplications of the nuns. They are given a minimum of accompaniment (sublimely effective when divided violas in four are employed) which at times thins out so that the women are singing a cappella. The author of the notes makes the point that Reger 'was not a composer who reflected long over any text in order to reproduce the poem  in musical form'; he 'inundated the poem with the flood of his musical imagination' as one commentator said. Reger's melodic lyricism is kept in check by his multi-layered polyphony and his extended chromatic harmonies. I was mindful of these points when listening to some of the more dramatic passages where Reger seems to be saying far more than is printed in the text. A most interesting if uneven work; it has to be said that the invention sometimes falters.

The songs are predominantly sunny and serene. Again the wonder is Reger's orchestration facility and his seemingly simple textures. Zephyr breezes waft across shimmering landscapes bathed in sunlight in an atmosphere of joy and love in the opening songs 'Happiness' and 'Midday' with passion in check expressed in the latter. Lullabies and Christmas carols styles inform 'Cradle Song' and 'The Child's Prayer.' These 'Simple tunes' show Reger concentrating on homely intimacy and naive serenity. 'The Aeolian Harp' impresses: muted strings, syncopated thirds in the second violins and a solo woodwind melody marked 'espressivo e dolce' are heard in unison with the plangent vocal line. Songs of the night, still and fragrant and romantic are also included. The most impressive being 'The Village', a song to be played 'gently drifting, very tenderly throughout'; a solo violin establishes an intimate atmosphere with a veiled pianissimo which hovers over the piece almost throughout beginning with the words, 'How full of  beauteous secrets is the night.' Another richly tonal setting comes with 'My dream' conjuring the happy intimacy of a pair of lovers on a Spring night. The most extended song is the 13-minute 'To Hope' in which Reger turns the tragic element of HF6lderlin's text around to a much more positive exclamation. There is a significant orchestral section and the music rises through the serenity of the preceding pieces to reach a fortissimo impassioned climax.

Lioba Braun, sounding not unlike Kathleen Ferrier, caresses the words of these lovely songs and Horst Stein provides most sensitive and articulate accompaniments throughout. The sound generally is very good but in some places in The Nuns tends to be a shade congested. A most interesting release.


Ian Lace

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links
but you can also purchase

Return to Index