Max Reger: Orchesterlieder - An die Hoffnung Op124; Requiem Op144Max Reger: A Cappella Works Op. 39 & Op. 110
The new Hyperion release of choral songs by Max Reger is quite special since it provides the listener with a kind of intimacy one does not normally associate with the composer. Because the performers, Consortium, appear to be a smaller than average group of singers, a new perspective of these works can be inferred; Consortium is a highly-precise and harmonious ensemble, and the conducting by its founder, Andrew-John Smith, is perfectly paced. That is not to say that Smith's choices are not controversial. I question why Smith chooses to use pseudo-trebles (probably adult or teen females) instead of sopranos. They sing with perfect intonation, but high notes cut with a keenness that belies the source of Reger's poetic inspiration. Reger uses poetry written by masters of German Romantic literature - there are no cherubim to be found in this material, since the driving force of all Romantic literature (and painting for that matter) is Nature. Sopranos would supply a requisite delicateness and maturity that one might not identify with pure and innocent trebles. The notes in this album are almost apologetic regarding Reger's neglect, and fail to acknowledge his influence on 20th Century composers. Be that as it may, for the performance of the opus 144a, "Der Einsiedler" (The Hermit) and 144b, "Requiem," this disc are a must. "Der Einsieder" may be Reger's most beautiful song; it moves me deeply and is more alluring than "An die Hoffnung," perhaps Reger's most famous song.
The latter works mentioned above seem to cry out for orchestration, and you will find these orchestral songs on a very fine Orfeo disc that comes from 1990, on which the Hamburg State Philharmonic is conducted by Gerd Albrecht. The soloist is the redoubtable Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, clearly at the end of his career, but with enough power and drama to make a poignant impression. The faults of this disc are the spotlighting of Fischer-Dieskau against a recessed orchestra and chorus, and the tendency of Albrecht, at times, to be unable to resist the impulse of driving the music forcefully. Smith, in the aforementioned recording, paces the music with more refinement. Although out of print (I believe), the Albrecht disc is still worth seeking out.
You will also find Reger's lovely, if overtly Brahmsian, "Drei sechsstimmige Chöre" on both the Consortium release and a wonderful disc by the Danish National Radio Choir conducted by Stefan Parkman on Chandos. The Danish forces are much larger than Consortium's, and the intimacy is sacrificed, but the performances are first rate and the recording is typical of the high standards of Chandos. This disc also features the "Drei Fünfstimmige Mottenten," Op. 110, which are profound late works of Reger, expertly performed. While there is repetition in these three discs, I am glad to have them all in my collection.