PERFORMER: Iris Vermillion (mezzo-soprano)Peter Stamm (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 999 317-2
There’s ample opportunity to sample Reger’s orchestral and chamber music on CD these days, but his substantial output of songs remains surprisingly disregarded by performers and record companies alike. However, on the evidence of this fascinating and admirably performed release, such neglect is hardly justified. Indeed, those who have previously fought shy of exploring Reger’s music may well find that the songs represent one of the best introductions to his work; and they also provide a necessary corrective to the conventionally-held notion that the composer was simply incapable of exercising restraint in the manipulation of notes.
This disc encompasses most of Reger’s composing career, from the early 1890s to just before the outbreak of the First World War. Stylistically, the earlier songs owe much to Brahms, but the increasing chromaticism of Reger’s musical language (most effectively illustrated in an especially powerful setting of Stefan Zweig’s poem ‘Ein Drängen’) places the majority of works closer to Wolf, Strauss and early Schoenberg. In this respect, it’s particularly instructive to compare the settings of Birnbaum’s Traum durch die Dämmerung by Reger and Strauss. There’s little doubt that Strauss exhibits much greater melodic fluency and memorability than his Bavarian contemporary, but ultimately Reger’s version is the more searching. With such musical revelations on offer, it’s to be hoped that CPO can be persuaded to record further discs of Reger’s songs in the not too distant future. Erik Levi