Playlist: Exploring Max Reger

Gramophone Mon 26th September 2016

Gavin Dixon celebrates the centenary composer’s impressively broad output

Writing this issue’s in-depth feature on Max Reger (see page 16) gave me the wonderful opportunity to become better acquainted with his music, which is well served by recordings – particularly on German labels.

Reger’s flowing melodic style is most apparent in his chamber music. His focused solo writing lends an impressive clarity to the Violin and Clarinet Sonatas, while the Op 74 String Quartet is one of Reger’s most harmonically daring works – but somehow one of his most charming, too. The Suite in the Old Style, on the other hand, takes us into Reger’s neo-Baroque sound world; it is heard here in an evocative and historically significant recording from Adolf Busch and Rudolf Serkin.

Concertos and variation sets dominate Reger’s orchestral output. The Violin Concerto is a multifaceted work, by turns tender and epic, while the Mozart Variations demonstrates the subtly of Reger’s orchestration. His mastery of variation form is also evident in the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of JS Bach, one of several extended sets for piano.

Reger is most famous as an organ composer, though, and the Fantasia and Fugue in D minor finds him exploring all the colours and textures of the German Romantic organ. In addition, choral music figures large in Reger’s catalogue, and the Geistliche Gesänge demonstrate his delicate textures and subtle harmonic daring. Finally, a real rarity – an album of Reger’s Lieder for voice and piano. This is Reger at his most intimate, channelling Schubert in songs of direct, lyrical expression.

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