WORKS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart; Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Hiller
PERFORMER: New Zealand SO/Franz-Paul Decker
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553079 DDD
Max Reger, one of the major German composers of the late-Romantic era, has nonetheless failed to make much headway with audiences outside his native country. Tarred with the brush of conservative academicism, his propensity towards over-elaborate textures may appear unattractive when compared with his more colourful contemporary, Richard Strauss. Yet in drawing his creative inspiration from the German tradition from Bach to Brahms, Reger was hardly a reactionary. One could argue that he was anticipating developments that were to gain momentum during the Twenties.
The two sets of Variations featured on this disc show Reger at the height of his powers, manipulating the simple material upon which these works are based with considerable ingenuity of means. There are times perhaps when the sheer density of texture may appear self-defeating, and in this respect the Naxos recording isn’t absolutely ideal, especially in the concluding fugues. In addition, orchestral balance is sometimes askew in the Mozart Variations, where prominent solos can be obscured by accompanying material. But all in all, Franz-Paul Decker offers affectionate and sensitive interpretations, and the New Zealand SO cope well with Reger’s hair-raising technical demands. An enticing bargain for all newcomers to Reger’s music, but Colin Davis and the Bavarian RSO, at full price, are even more illuminating in this repertoire. Erik Levi