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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Alexandre Kniazev (cello)
Édouard Oganessian (piano)
rec. September 1997, Aulnay-sous-Bois (Sonatas); August 2008 and May 2009, Église Saint-Marcel, Paris (remainder)
Track-listing below
SAPHIR PRODUCTIONS LVC1103 [3 CDs: 74:01 + 76:01 + 69:00]

Some may well be daunted by the prospect of three full CDs of cello music by Max Reger but this is largely because his reputation still goes before him, even a century or so after his untimely death. Admirers of the composer will know that the core of this collection will be the four big-scale sonatas and the three more compact solo suites, and that they contain some of the finest chamber music written for the cello between 1904 (the date of the Third Sonata) and 1915.
The first CD is shared between the earliest two Sonatas and a raft of occasional pieces, all brief, and a number of which are transcriptions. The Aria comes from the Violin Suite Op.103a and is full of Bachian dissonance. The other smaller things are variously witty or warm, according to their origins; but the Caprice in A minor is a good example of Regerian wit. A pendant, in the third CD, is Symphonische Fantasie, Op.57 (1901) transcribed for cello and piano by Robert Engl in 2003 - especially intense and dramatic. This is the world première recording of Engl’s work.
Cleverly, Reger unfolds binary opposition at the start of his big 1893 First Sonata, where the disparity between the cello’s lyricism and the piano’s subversions generate the argument to breaking point. This in turn is followed by a forlorn meditation and some intense drama in the finale, flecked with many reflective passages. The typical push-pull opening of the 1899 sonata also signals a dichotomous approach, which relaxes in the central section as the instruments slow, ponder and renew, allied to thick Brahmsian piano writing. Reger introduces Baroque elements in the scherzo but it has an effectively lyric trio. In the ensuing Intermezzo a serene beauty emerges amidst the tumult.
The two later sonatas are contained in the second disc. The F major from 1904 and earnest intensity is balanced by lyrical warmth, and again a dapper and fast scherzo sits well in Reger’s four movement plan. Perhaps the slow movement with variations is a microcosm of Reger’s way of doing things in these chamber works: vital, buzzy, full of incident and incremental power; playful (yes, Reger - playful) and fanciful as well as intense, with the piano often decoratively lyrical and to the fore. The 1910 Sonata is more chromatic, and it’s a big sinewy work traversing expressive extremes. Maybe the best is contained in the opening Allegro moderato. The scherzo is pleasant and for all its melancholy the slow movement lacks distinction. The finale is light and genial, and deliberately so.
Reger returned to the level of his 1904 sonata when he penned, in close chronological proximity, his three Cello Suites. They were completed the year before his death. They’re recorded closely so you can pick up Alexandre Kniazev’s sniffs. Each of these works has proved a boon to the twentieth-century repertoire. They have so many moods, so much technical dexterity, and such compositional assurance. Whether lively, sporting joyful pizzicati incidents, or bluffly extrovert, or broodingly expressive, they are a repository of all that is best in Reger’s instrumental writing. If you are unconvinced try the finale of the A minor - an Andante with variations; drama and recitative, thematic material and technical eloquence held in perfect balance.
Kniazev proves a valuable exponent throughout, nobly assisted by Édouard Oganessian in the duo works. I would only note that there are times when he doesn’t make enough of registral changes, preferring to run through such opportunities for contrast and here I’m thinking of the G major Cello Suite in particular. When a master cellist, such as Feuermann, tackled Reger - as he did in 1939 - he discovered a greater range of tone colours and articulation. But that is to contrast Kniazev with one of the very greatest in this repertoire. Otherwise he plays with assiduous care and concern for Reger’s characterisation.
Jonathan Woolf  

See also review by Gavin Dixon

CD 1
Aria for cello and piano (from Suite in A minor, Op.103a) [5:31]
Romanza in A minor, (1904) transcr. Richard Lange [2:46]
Caprice in B minor Op.79e No.1 (1901) [1:59]
Herzenstausch Op.76 No.5, transcr. for cello by Folkmar Längin [1:27]
Wenn die Linde blüht Op.76 No.4, transcr. for cello by Folkmar Längin [1:15]
Mariä Wiegenlied Op.76, transcr. for cello by Folkmar Längin [2:12]
Caprice in A minor (1901-02) [1:14]
Kleine Romanza, Op.79e.2 (1901) [1:34]
Romanza in G major (1904) [1:27]
Wiegenlied, Op.79d.1 (1901) [1:39]
Cello Sonata No.1, Op.5 (1893) [29:26]
Cello Sonata No.2, Op.28 (1899) [22:47]
CD 2
Cello Sonata No.3 in F major, Op.78 (1904) [38:28]
Cello Sonata No.4 in A minor, Op.116 (1910) [37:25]
CD 3
Cello Suite in G major, Op.131c, No.1 (1914-15) [14:08]
Cello Suite in D minor, Op.131c, No.2 (1914-15) [22:21]
Cello Suite in A minor, Op.131c, No.3 (1914-15) [21:20]
Symphonische Fantasie, Op.57 (1901) transcr. for cello and piano by Robert Engl (2003) [10:24]