Reger Psalm 100, Op 106; Variations on a Theme of Mozart
Among collections that are otherwise wellstocked there are probably several in which Max Reger is represented by a single disc or none at all. In the latter event‚ this present issue could very well (and very well) fill the gap. It might even be too successful for its own good: having ‘found’ Reger in these two highly attractive works‚ the listener may want more of him and‚ searching through the catalogue‚ be drawn to the discs cited above for purposes of comparison. Then arises the problem of duplication. In other words‚ desirable as the new Chandos record is on its own merits‚ it may be worth the collector’s while to think whether Reger could deserve two slots on the shelves‚ thus accommodating the present works along with the very enjoyable couplings included in these other two discs.
The 100th Psalm is the Jubilate Deo (‘O be joyful in the Lord‚ all ye lands’)‚ four verses long and in Reger’s 1909 setting treated symphonically in four movements. A large choir is needed to balance the rich orchestration‚ to which is added a part for organ. In 1958 Hindemith took it in hand‚ editing out some of the writing for instruments and even cutting 11 bars to tighten up the finale. This is the version used in the performance under Polyansky‚ presumably with the intention of producing an effect clearer in definition‚ more taut in structure. A detailed examination of the score would probably find good reason for Hindemith’s emendations‚ but it is a dangerous principle‚ and I wouldn’t say that comparison with the German recording under Horst Stein shows it to be justified. The Russian performance lacks nothing in zest‚ and the recorded sound‚ perhaps abetting Hindemith‚ helps one to listen more analytically. On the other hand‚ the acoustic has a rather hard‚ overbright reverberance‚ and the ears (mine at least) find relief and a greater naturalness in the Stein recording of 1995. This is generally more expansive than Polyansky‚ but while Stein takes longer over the three main movements‚ the third (marked Scherzo) is slightly quicker‚ gaining a livelier effect of contrast. Both choirs sing well but Stein’s achieves the better blend and the clearer enunciation.
In the Mozart Variations (1914) comparisons tend to favour Polyansky over FranzPaul Decker with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Naxos‚ but not‚ I would say‚ to a degree that would settle the matter over buying priorities. The theme is that of the A major Piano Sonata‚ K331‚ delightfully scored and well played on the Chandos recording but turned out‚ overdeliberate and overschooled‚ like a pupil from an elocution lesson on the Naxos. Throughout‚ the Chandos has clearer detail and a wider dynamic range: yet there’s often a fine delicacy in the other‚ and in the last movement‚ the fugue‚ Decker’s steady beat and unforced approach to the climax pay off handsomely.
Where the older versions of both works score more decisively is in their couplings. In Horst Stein’s recording the Psalm is the middle item in between two deeply impressive works (Die Weihe der Nacht and Weihegesang) for contralto‚ choir and orchestra; and Decker with the New Zealand orchestra has for its companionpiece Reger’s Variations on a Theme by JA Hiller. All of these deserve a place. But if it’s to be one and one only‚ then the Chandos‚ with the composer’s two most popular works in the choral and orchestral categories‚ will prove a rewarding choice.