Reger: Piano Concerto; R Strauss: Burleske in D minor

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss,Reger
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Reger: Piano Concerto; R Strauss: Burleske in D minor
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano); Berlin Radio SO/Ilan Volkov

Reger’s Piano Concerto is a work of immense power that is nevertheless prone, in the wrong hands, to sound like a heavy Brahmsian homage overburdened with notes and distorted by tonal sideslips. Marc-André Hamelin’s hands, however, are definitely the right ones, and this is one of the most lucid, as well as passionate, readings of the piece I have heard. Hamelin never makes the deep left-hand bass writing in the first movement sound heavy, and he plays the very full chords as crisply as they demand. This big movement (almost 18 minutes in this performance) begins in dark-hued, sombre mood and is not always easy to make sense of formally, but Hamelin and Ilan Volkov elucidate the strong lines of its structure and the logic of its development admirably. 
In the central Largo, one of the most touching movements Reger penned, Hamelin brings a delicate touch to its meditative lyricism, and he injects a fine sense of bubbling merriment into the somewhat elephantine humour of the finale. If the Reger is usually in danger of ponderosity, Richard Strauss’s youthful Burleske – a Brahms-homage of a different kind – can easily sound meretriciously clever. But Hamelin gives one of the most stylish and elegant accounts of it I’ve heard, pointing up the warm lyricism of the waltz-episode and setting the sparkling wit of Strauss in scintillating contrast to the earthy humour of his fellow-Bavarian, Reger.
The two works are also coupled on an excellent RCA Victor disc from Barry Douglas with Marek Janowski conducting the Orchestre Philharmonique de France, but good though Douglas is, in sheer bravura and recording quality this new Hyperion release makes it the better choice. Calum MacDonald