WORKS: Psalm 100; Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart
PERFORMER: Russian State SO & Symphonic Cappella/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9917
Like Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture, Reger’s setting of Psalm 100 was written as a gesture of
thanks to a German university for awarding the composer an honorary doctorate. Constructed on the grandest symphonic scale and offering a brilliant display of Reger’s contrapuntal techniques, ’s hardly a pièce d’occasion, presenting instead a marvellously exhilarating introduction to the music of a much-underrated master.
Given the fearsome technical demands of the choral writing and the sheer density of sound that emerges in its outer sections, it’s not surprising that Valery Polyansky should have opted to perform the work in Hindemith’s expert 1958 revision which does much to clarify the texture. Yet the rather boomy acoustic of the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory fails to serve the score to its best advantage, making Reger’s intricate choral and orchestral writing sound unbearably congested in places.
The Russian State Symphonic Cappella copes pretty well under the circumstances, particularly in the darkly expressive chromaticism of the slower second section, but the singers’ diction is not as clear as on the superior rival recording on Koch featuring the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Polyansky is obviously a sympathetic Regerian drawing much charm, humour and passion from the better-known Mozart Variations. Yet in the last resort, the performance remains disappointing in its inability to draw a more focused narrative through the complex web of musical lines – qualities which
are far more in evidence in Colin Davis’s sadly deleted 1990 Philips recording. Erik Levi