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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Violin Concerto in A Major Op 101 (adapted by Rudolf Kolisch)
Elena Denisova (violin)
Gustav Mahler Ensemble/Alexei Kornienko
rec. April 2003, Neuer Saal des Kämtner Landeskonservatorium, Austria OEHMS CLASSICS OC1862 [47:00]
Reger wrote no symphony but he did write a massive piano concerto and an even larger violin concerto which he himself called a monster. It lasts over three quarters of an hour, and apart from the beginning of the first movement the solo violin plays virtually throughout. It is loosely modelled on the Brahms violin concerto and is recognizably a late romantic work, already somewhat old-fashioned at its premiere in 1910.
There are three movements. The long first movement has several themes, with a long exposition, a short development which leads to an impressive solo cadenza, written out, unlike that in Brahms’s concerto, and a short coda. The slow movement has three themes, all rather melancholy, and was considered the most successful at the premiere. The finale is cheerful, even skittish, reminiscent not so much of the finale of Brahms’s violin concerto as that of his double concerto.
The concerto is played here, not in its original full orchestration, but in a chamber version which was made by the violinist Rudolf Kolisch for Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances in the years immediately after the first World War. This society put on chamber versions of contemporary and recent works to a public which excluded critics. The scoring is for solo violin with flute, clarinet, horn, piano, harmonium, string quartet and double bass. I must admit to not having heard the original version but I note that there have been several arrangements of it, which suggests that the original scoring does have its problems. This version takes its place along other recordings of the arrangements for Schoenberg’s concert series. Schoenberg was a great admirer of Reger and mounted performances of many of his works.
Elena Denisova is a powerful soloist with a rich and full tone who gives an eloquent performance. She also has a tendency to play on the sharp side of the note. She is balanced slightly too forward for my taste and I had to fiddle with the controls to get a good balance with the ensemble. Her conductor Alexei Kornienko is also her husband and works both as a conductor and as a pianist. He secures effective support from the Gustav Mahler Ensemble.
I have a soft spot for Reger but I have to say that this work does not seem to me one of his best. The themes are both too like one another and also rather lacking in distinction. The slow movement, which the first audience admired, seems to me beautiful from moment to moment but completely forgettable as a whole. I found the finale the most interesting movement as it does move along and has better themes.
Apart from the issue of balance the recording, in a concert hall acoustic, is adequate. It was recorded in 2003 and first issued on the Preiser label.
The sleevenote gives useful background in German and a rather stilted English with occasional mistakes (I noted ‘discretely’ for ‘discreetly’ and ‘draft’ for ‘draught’). The disc is rather short measure; other recordings have more music. There would have been room for, say, Busoni’s violin concerto, which would have made an interesting pairing.
There is another recording of this chamber version on Capriccio, by Winfried Rademacher and the Linos Ensemble, which takes a full ten minutes longer (review). There is also an arrangement by Adolf Busch which has been recorded on Telos TLS097 by Kolja Lessing with Christoph-Mathias Mueller. Of the original, Michael Cookson thought much the same of the work as I do but quite liked the version by Tanja Becker-Bender and Lothar Zagrosek in Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series (review). David Wright, for whom this is a desert island work, liked a performance by Manfred Scherzer with Herbert Blømstedt (review) but prefers Susanne Lautenbacher with Guenter Wich on Pantheon, though this version is apparently slightly cut. I suspect the Hyperion is the one to go for unless you have a particular interest in this arrangement.