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Reger: Romantic Violin Concerto Vol.11 (Concerto In A Major Op.101/ Two) (Hyperion: CDA67892) CD
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Confidently projected playing. --The Strad,Feb'12
Tanja Becker-Bender is more equal to the demands of the solo part, and Lorthar Zagrosek's masterly articulation of Reger's Klangstrom(stream of sound), in all its transparency and modulated colour and variety of incident is, if anything, an even more distinguished contribution. Splendid recording too. --Gramohone,Mar'12
I have been a Reger admirer for almost my adult life, but I have not heard a performance of his Violin Concerto which has excited or moved me as much as this one. This is a truly outstanding CD of very fine music, excellently performed and recorded. IRR OUTSTANDING --IRR,Feb'12
Chief honours go to Tanja Becker-Bender: she not only shows stamina but also technical command, Beauty of tone and clear sympathetic identification with the music. Performance ***** Recording **** --BBC Music Magazine,Apr'12
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The Violin Concerto is nearly 57 minutes long, its first movement alone taking 27 1/2 mins. Once you adjust to the scale of this movement, it is not difficult to follow in broad outline. It is the usual sonata structure. The themes, though, are not distinguished in themselves and, although the music is densely argued, you may feel that this movement is just too long for its material, especially given that it appeals so much more to the head than the heart. Reger is not the most imaginative of composers; he is not really interested in fantasy or colour. Logic is what matters. The harmonies are, as usual with Reger, highly chromatic and there are long stretches where there is no clearly discernible tonality. The booklet blames the concerto's neglect on its length and the difficulty of the solo part but I wonder if the truth is that many concert violinists wonder if the effort involved in learning the piece is justifiable, especially given how often they are likely to be asked to play it.
Still, I enjoyed getting to know this work even though it will never be a favourite and, if you are up for the challenge it presents, I'll give a few pointers. There is no introduction, the main theme being stated at once by a solo oboe. The orchestral exposition proceeds as a long paragraph. At a first hearing, try to pick up the climbing idea first heard at 1 min 4 secs. The solo exposition begins at 4 mins 23 secs, the climbing idea returning at 5 mins 13 secs. The proper second subject, in the expected key of E major, is suggested in the orchestra at 7 mins 13 secs and, at 8 mins 6 secs, it is taken up by the soloist. Once you have picked up the movement's two main ideas, the end-of-exposition tutti is easily followed, especially from 10 mins 32 secs onwards. At 13 mins 4 secs the climbing idea is heard. A tutti marks the end of the development and, at 16 mins 40 secs, the recapitulation begins. The second subject returns at 19 mins 6 secs and again at 19 mins 24 secs. There is a very fine cadenza, composed by Reger himself. The coda is largely built on the main theme and there is an unequivocal A major ending.
The other two movements are easier to grasp. The slow movement's opening theme is a lovely variant of the first movement's main theme. A middle section is built on a descending scalic idea and, at 8 mins 51 secs, the opening section returns. There is a fair amount of what seems to me lyrical but rather directionless writing for the soloist but this is an attractive movement and you may like to get to know it before you tackle the first movement.
The finale is another sonata structure. The introductory flourish is to feature prominently later. The first theme is a watered-down version of the main theme of the finale of Brahms' concerto. It is, like so many of Reger's themes, an idea which is soon assimilated but not truly inspired. Two other ideas are heard, the first of which features the soloist playing in double stops. It is rather Brahmsian. The second is first stated by the wind. After a resourceful development, the recapitulation begins at 8 mins 36 secs. The ending comes rather abruptly and sooner than you expect; Reger is not interested in pandering to the vanity of his soloist.
The disc also includes two Romances for violin and orchestra. The booklet suggests that these pieces were intended to follow in the footsteps of similar works by Beethoven, Bruch and Dvorak but, largely because of their heavily chromatic language, they sound rather stale in comparison. They may be regarded, as the booklet writer also suggests, as "prototypes for the Violin Concerto".
The performances on this disc are absolutely splendid. Indeed, no praise could be too high for Tanja Becker-Bender's superb rendition of the solo parts. The recording is also excellent. If you like a challenge I can recommend this disc but it is certainly not for the casual music lover.
As for this recording I agree it in some high level. Becker Bender plyas passionately, sometimes "con fuoco". Zagrosek conducts orchestra in intellective way with his clear interpretation. A creditable performance, indeed.
But it lacks something important about Reger's music, that is, here isn't deep depressive mood nor sense of romanticism. I can't find Reger's superb, peculiar talent in this performance.
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"Max Reger's Violin Concerto is a monster, that is, in terms of sheer length. The work clocks in at just under an hour; the first movement alone lasts nearly 27 to 28 minutes. Busoni's mammoth Piano Concerto, which can run to 74 minutes, is a comparable masterpiece. Although the brilliance of both works is absolutely apparent, these are pieces that will never be programmed for the concert hall. It is not just the tremendous technical demands that must be met by the soloist, but the lengthy symphonic phrases and unrelenting musical suspense of the former, and the mercurial choral symphony-like structure of the latter, which defy the expectations of a conventional concerto to an audience.
I own the Manfred Scherzer version of the original concerto (on Berlin Classics), conducted by Herbert Blomstedt. What we have in this new disc is the world premiere of the re-orchestration of the work by Reger's disciple Adolph Busch. At 17 years of age, Busch played the concerto from memory to an astonished Reger. Reger himself recognized that his own heavy orchestration was problematic. After Reger's death, Busch, honoring the genius of the work, sought to bring more transparency to the orchestration and achieve a more effective balance between the orchestra and soloist by re-assigning parts. Busch did not change a note of music. His goal was to find a wider acceptance of this masterwork in the concert hall. Whether this first recording can accomplish this remains to be seen.
Scherzer was not really up to the Herculean task of the soloist, although he does an acceptable job. Kolja Lessing, equally well-versed in both violin and piano, gives a fine performance that does not depend of pyrotechnical display but is movingly thoughtful. The warmth of the two Romances is deeply poignant, as is the world premiere of the Air, which nearly quotes Bach's famous Air at the start. The Gottingen Symphony Orchestra is an excellent ensemble, and Christoph-Mathias Mueller is a conductor of great sensitivity.
It should be noted that the recording engineers strike a perfect balance, never overly spotlighting the soloist as one finds in many concerto recordings. The concert hall ambiance is admirable.
One hopes that this new recording will bring a legion of new admirers to these works, just as Hamelin's Hyperion recording has done for Reger's Piano Concerto (and Busoni's for that matter). In my opinion, Reger was the composer most aware that the age of Romantic music was coming to an end, and there is a melancholy sense of loss that pervades his later works. While his music is redolent of Brahms, his form is unique; Reger was a progressive composer and was highly influential to the Expressionist/Late Romantic movement. Perhaps that is why the orchestral Reger is so rarely performed in the concert repertoire."
Now Hyperion has released its own recording of the Reger Violin Concerto and the Romances, this time in the original version. Without question, this recording is outstanding, and the soloist (unknown to me), Tanja Becker-Bender, is astonishing. Her prominence amongst today's violin soloists is almost inevitable. In a challenging work such as this, she gives a performance of Herculean strength, never swamped by the orchestral strata of sound, and has a meltingly beautiful tone. You will be utterly captivated by the largo movement of the Concerto. It should also be noted that the wonderful conductor, Lothar Zagrosek, demonstrates a perfect affinity with the soloist and the Reger's dense palette. In many ways, this release is as fine, if not finer, than the Piano Concerto with Hamelin on this label.
Reger's concerto lasts about 57 minutes, in 3 large-scale movements, with the first taking up almost 27 minutes alone. Little wonder that the composer himself described the concerto as "a monster". In his liner notes, Wolfgang Rathert (translated by Charles Johnston) says that "the concerto's very wealth of ideas and overabundance of beauties go hand in hand with a loss of clarity of outline for the listener." For me, however, the profusion of invention never quite coalesces into any big tunes that are comparable to those from the "big 4" violin concerti in the standard repertoire (Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky), with honorable mention to Bruch 1, Elgar and Walton. The violin writing is quite lyrical throughout, but again, even after listening to it twice, I couldn't find myself able to recall any particular tune. Nothing about this score is "inaccessible", not at all, but this relative lack of "big tunes", besides the work's sheer length and massive technical demands for the soloist, help to explain why this concerto has never entered the standard repertoire.
It may then seem unfair to contrast this "monster" concerto with the "Two Romances", which are obviously on a much smaller scale and are much less ambitious in their scope. According to Rathert's note, Reger composed these romances as "calling cards" to try to make a mark in a relatively populist violin concertante form. Yet it's hard not to escape the feeling that even though these op. 50 Romances aim lower, they hit the mark, compared to the concerto trying to scale the heights and not quite, perhaps, reaching the summit. The op. 50 Romances are real charmers and would definitely surprise anyone who has any sort of impression of Max Reger's music as "heavy". If nothing else, the op. 50 Romances are proof that Reger could "lighten up" when needed, I think that they would go down very well as a novelty in a live concert, if any violinist were enterprising enough to revive them for live performance. I would likewise be pleased to read of any violinist who wanted to revive the op. 101 concerto.
However, I don't expect anyone to revive the concerto soon in concert. Thus, by default, the best way for curious or adventurous listeners to learn more about these works would be recordings. Fortunately, in the case of this new Hyperion issue, we are in excellent hands in both works. Tanja Becker-Bender is well up to the demands of the concerto, and also shows a suitably lighter touch in the Romances. Likewise, the Konzerthaus Orchestra of Berlin and their former chief conductor, Lothar Zagrosek, provide splendid orchestral support. So if you want to check out these particular works, you need not hesitate with this recording. It may be your only means, for the duration.