Reger Cello Sonatas and Suites
Max Reger is often blamed for thickness of musical texture, but although the piano-writing here is certainly prolix, the first two sonatas are imbued with a Brahmsian/classical romanticism and a virility which keeps the music thoroughly alive. The First Sonata surges passionately and heroically at the opening yet the touching second subject sighs very personally, the Adagio “con gran affetto” is gently lyrical and the finale is skittish. The Second Sonata also sails off agitato and has a brilliant but more muted Scherzo and an engaging Trio. An Intermezzo replaces the slow movement and the finale is a graceful grazioso.
The last two sonatas are more mature, major works in which Reger has left Brahms behind and found his own voice. The highlight of No 3 is a substantial set of variations, Busoni's speciality, and the final sonata is even more impressive, with the cello introducing a kind of motto theme; the melodic writing in the secondary material is characteristically chromatic. There follows a whimsical, tarantella-like Scherzo, a warmly expressive slow movement and an engaging Allegretto con grazia finale.
The Cello Suites are in a direct line from Bach, although not collections of Baroque dances but three- or four-movement works. No 1 ends with a jolly fugue and No 2 includes both a Gavotte and a Gigue. Easily the finest is the Third with its richly sustained, intensely melodic Prelude, a brilliantly contrasted Scherzo and another appealing set of variations for its finale.
This is a stimulating package, very well played: both artists produce the passionate response demanded of them. Alban Gerhardt has a warm, resonant middle register and Markus Becker is well able to undertake the music's considerable virtuosity. The recording is vivid and clear, not quite up to the most flattering Hyperion studio recordings, but fully acceptable.