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on 17 February 2013
Max Reger
Violin Concerto in A, Op. 101.
Aria for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 103,3
Ulf Wallin violin
Münchner Rundfunkorchedter
Ulf Schirmer
CPO 777 736-2
TT 61:24
Violin Concerto in A, Op. 101.
Chaconne for Solo Violin, Op. 117,4
Benjamin Schmid violin
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra
Hannu Lintu
Ondine ODE 1203-2
TT 63:56

On listening to this work one soon comes to appreciate just why it has not become a staple of violinist's repertoire, yes it is a virtuosic piece in the romantic style, but it lacks the crowd pleasing `big tunes' or real cadenzas in which they can shine, Bruch or Tchaikovsky this aint! Rather the virtuosity lies in the interplay between the violinist and the rather large orchestra in this rather long, around 55 minutes, concerto.
Reger 1873-1916) composed the concerto in the winter of 1907-1908 and is clearly indebted to Brahms, who he venerated. It is composed in the classical style with three long movements, although at just under half an hour, the first movement is probably too long, which is one of the reasons why the concerto was not the success that Reger had hoped for, the other being the sumptuous orchestration which in some hands can make it sound stodgy. The second movement Largo con gran espressione is the most lyrical movement of the three, and the failure of the concerto led the German composer and musicologist, Hans Renner, to lament over the loss of this movement. While the final movement was described by the composer as "...a photograph of the devil's grandmother when that worthy lady was still young and went to all the court balls..."
These are both fine recordings in their own way, but neither quite hits the intensity required to pull off the work, Ulf Wallin (CPO) tends to add a little more virtuosity to his performance than Benjamin Schmidt (Ondine) who tends to show more attention to detail. Neither of the chosen fillers is ideal either, but I suppose if I was to choose it would be the Aria for Violin and Orchestra offered on the CPO disc, but this is purely because the Chaconne can be found elsewhere.
Personally, my own choice of the concerto remains the exceptional performance by Manfred Scherzer with the Statskapelle Dresden under Herbert Blomstedt on the Berlin Classics label, in this recording we have both soloist and conductor singing from the same hymn sheet so to speak, both fully committed to the work, with the result being, in my opinion, the finest recording available. Walter Forchert's performance under Horst Stein is also worth investigating even if the performance is not as engaged as Scherzer's.
Where these two recordings win hands down is on recorded sound, the Berlin Classics recording is nearly 30 years old and is showing its age a little bit, especially compared to the CPO recording with its hybrid SACD technology bringing out more orchestral colour, despite this I would never be parted from Scherzer's recording!
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