WORKS: Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Mozart
PERFORMER: NY Philharmonic/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 9031 74007-2 DDD
Poor Reger, his star has definitely waned. Not that it was ever high in this country, where he has always suffered the reputation of a turgidly Teutonic composer. There’s some irony there, since his lifelong ambition was to compose music of Mozartian clarity and lightness. Certainly, his Mozart Variations are scored with immense subtlety and delicacy, and they treat the siciliano-like theme (taken from the first movement of the well-known Turkish Rondo piano sonata) with extraordinary inventiveness and wit. Prejudice aside, this is a masterpiece, and one of the finest in the relatively slender repertoire of orchestral variations.
In addition to one of the acknowledged cornerstones of the genre – Brahms’s Haydn Variations (which, like the Reger, exist in a version for two pianos) – Kurt Masur includes a rarity. Charles Ives was just 17 when he wrote his Variations on America (‘God Save the Queen’ to you and me) as an organ piece. William Schuman’s resourceful orchestration forms an entertaining, if inconsequential, curtain-raiser to this enterprising disc – one of the first fruits of Masur’s post as music director of the New York Philharmonic.
Playing and recording are admirable throughout, though overlong pauses between individual variations disturb the music’s flow. Highly pretentious (and ill-informed) accompanying notes. Misha Donat