Reger: Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin; An die Hoffnung; Eine Romantische Suite nach JF Eichendorff

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COMPOSERS: Reger
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin; An die Hoffnung; Eine Romantische Suite nach JF Eichendorff
PERFORMER: LPO/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80589
It’s difficult for readers today to appreciate how important Max Reger was in the early years of the 20th century. His name was routinely ranked with that of Strauss as one of the world’s leading modern composers – a far starrier figure than such oddities as Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Mahler. Now you’re lucky to find him turning up in any kind of concert programme. One of Leon Botstein’s aims in recording these three pieces is to show that Reger isn’t the stodgy, over-complex composer he’s portrayed as nowadays – Brahmsian solidity without Brahms’s poetry. Up to a point he succeeds. In the Böcklin pieces there’s passion, elegant lyricism, even perfumed eroticism. The first movement, ‘Hermit Playing the Violin’, is perhaps the finest thing here – a sensuous, meditative aria for violin and orchestra that may remind British listeners of Elgar or early Vaughan Williams. But in the more animated movements – ‘In the Play of the Waves’ and ‘Bacchanal’ from the Böcklin cycle, or the scherzo from the Eichendorff Suite – it’s soon clear that Reger can’t really do fast. No matter how much he may try to rouse himself, the music remains sedentary. Still, the performances are assured and the recording clear and atmospheric. If you want to get beyond the contemporary caricature of Reger and discover his real strengths and weaknesses, this would be a good place to start. Stephen Johnson

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