Stumbling across the Max Reger suites
The combination of the words “Max Reger” and “solo viola” is not, I’d guess, something that sets the average pulse racing! Or so I thought until the other day when planning a week’s worth of radio programme on the theme of the viola I stumbled across Reger’s three suites for solo viola in a recording played by the wonderful Tabea Zimmermann. You can find them on eMusic, iTunes and no doubt other sites too. There’s something so direct about a single stringed instrument playing unaccompanied – there’s no barrier between player and listener, and the ability to touch in some pretty rich harmonies into what we usually think of as a “single-line” instrument gives it a quite extraordinary power. Harmonically obviously from a much later age than Bach, the Reger suites have the same purity of utterance and spareness as the Bach originals (and Zimmermann gives us a couple of transcribed Bach cello suites as if to close the gap of some 150 years). I particularly like the First Suite with its improvisatory first movement – never again will I jump to conclusions based purely on a composer’s name (palindromic though it may be!).