If your previous experience of Reger has been with his extensive body
of organ music, or even with his piano concerto - for which Rudolf
Serkin was an advocate – in which the harmonies can be gnarly and
the textures rather thick, you might expect the worst here. Fear not:
these works are readily accessible, offering up variegated colours,
textures, and even melodies within clear, purposeful structures.
Not that there aren't astringent moments. In the Romantic
, the winds begin the Notturno
with an Expressionist
severity. The mood quickly yields, however, to a broad lyrical theme
that wouldn't be out of place in Richard Strauss or even Rachmaninov.
The booklet cites Mendelssohn's influence in the central Scherzo
- Reger originally planned to call it "Elfin Revels" - but
the devilish, even sinister waltz we hear is far removed from Mendelssohn's
fairies. The Finale (molto sostenuto)
is pictorial, night
yielding to day, generating powerful climaxes along the way.
The four Böcklin tone-poems, taken together, constitute a quasi-symphonic
suite. The chorale-like opening movement is somber and atmospheric.
Next comes another waltzy scherzo, more Mendelssohnian than its counterpart
in Op. 125, punctuated by shafts of tutti
third movement, Die Toteninsel
, is pleasingly varied - neither
as gloomy as the title might suggest, nor as grim as the notes imply.
Finally, there's a Bacchanal
, holding its diverse
materials within a rigorously Classical rhythmic framework before
gaining impulse in a rushing coda.
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt's leadership is stylish and even graceful.
He shapes the music authoritatively, with a good feel for the affect
of the lighter textures, and leans expressively into the long, juicy
melodies. He draws responsive playing from the NDR forces: note the
crisp, pointed woodwinds in the second movement, Im Spiel der
, of the Böcklin set.
Now the bad - or at least the less good - news: the sound, while serviceable,
is sub-par. The solo oboe registers vividly; sometimes, so does the
clarinet but the orchestral image sounds somehow "removed"
and lacking in presence. In track 3, the brasses at 4:40 sound hollow
and blasty, as used to happen in some early-digital productions; shortly
thereafter, the climax at 5:25 is opaque. Both those last problems
The music's worth knowing, but I'm afraid I don't
see this as anything more than a stop-gap.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and