REGER Clarinet Sonatas
A cautionary tale, courtesy of Nicholas Marston’s booklet note: Reger bartered the dedication of his First Clarinet Sonata to a local critic in exchange for some good reviews. The critic then forgot his promise, or recovered his conscience. Either way, after reading of the critic’s lukewarm reaction to the Op 39 Choruses, Reger got the hump and scratched out the dedication.
Michael Collins should have little to fear from modern-day Beckmessers. The second-movement Scherzo of that sonata bubbles along like a Black Forest brook, with an affable humour that may come as a surprise to listeners familiar only with Reger’s organ music or his dyspeptic glare in photographs. Here and in the beautifully weighted chords of the small, slow Trio, the partnership of Collins and Michael McHale sets this disc apart from the modern competition. After all, not the least pertinent resemblance between Reger’s three sonatas and the earlier pair of Brahms is the unequal division of labour: like a duck paddling along that brook, the pianist must work harder to complement the serene cast of the clarinet gliding above.
Despite the key of F sharp minor, No 2 mostly retains the warmth of the First Sonata, though Collins takes care to withdraw his tone a little in the Allegro dolente first movement and maximise what little tension may be found against the richly chromatic piano part. He unerringly finds the simple songs amid the compulsive modulations – in another brief Trio and another Larghetto of passing clouds – and always sings them with the nobility they deserve.
Placed first on the album, Op 107 dates from 1908 09, almost a decade later than the pair of Op 49 sonatas. It’s an altogether more imposing challenge. Good as Janet Hilton and Jakob Fichert are on Naxos, I prefer the more dramatic approach of Collins and McHale, more keenly contrasted in dynamic as well as tempo, urging on music that does not want to sit around and navel-gaze, even as the finale gently unwinds after yet more pages of bitonal ripplings and meanderings. Their clarity of intent is much aided by an excellent Chandos recording.