REGER Schlichte Weisen, op. 76. 5 neue Kinderlieder, op. 142 ? Frauke May (mez); Bernhard Renzikowski (pn) ? ARTE NOVA ANO 927610 (2 CDs: 111:08)
Schlichte Weisen ("Simple Ditties") is a surprising title from Max Reger, that dean of complexity. So, perhaps to preserve his reputation, he wrote 60 of them for this song cycle, which lasts an hour and 40 minutes. Reger purposely sought outRead more "pretty, simple-witted texts" (from the notes to these discs) and wrote simple music for them – the major German poets are not represented here. He was apparently aiming for popular approval, something unknown to most of his music, although when it did come he often mocked it. One song of the set, "Mariä Wiegenlied" ("The Virgin's Lullaby"), became his only best seller – a "Reger's Greatest Hits" CD would have a total timing of 2:01. Clough and Cumings's The World's Encyclopedia of Recorded Music lists recordings by 29 singers, from Claudia Muzio to Mario Lanza, in the 78-rpm era, and it survives today on a Renée Fleming recital disc. The first seven Schlichte Weisen were published in 1904, and the composer added more every year or two, up to 1912. The Five New Children?s Songs of 1916 continue the cycle, but Reger had by then changed publishers.
The earlier songs are simple and direct, with comparably simple accompaniments; only the occasional flash of excitement might tax a competent pianist. The moods vary from humor to drama; warmth and calm prevail, with an emphasis on the lullaby. Every so often the composer seems to forget his stated purpose and reverts to his more interesting, more controversial ways. What made "Mariä Wiegelied" such a hit is hard to say; like many popular miniatures of the early 20th century, it is bland and brief. The final two sets (Nos. 44–60) are songs for children, most of them to texts by Martin Boelitz or Ernst Ludwig Schellenberg that seem to have piqued Reger?s interest; his music now expands with charm and wit. In "Two Little Mice" (disc 2, track 18) one hears the cat padding around after the mice and complaining at its failure to catch them. "Farmhand Ruprecht" and "The Five Chicks" recall Mussorgsky's wonderful children's songs. The op. 142 songs are more conventional and less interesting.
Frauke May displays a light, pleasant mezzo-soprano totally appropriate for this music, as well as a natural feeling for Reger, whose songs she has recorded elsewhere. Pianist Bernhard Renzikowski supports her comfortably with his elegant playing. They find the right mood for each song and create a winning set, meeting an artistic challenge in lieu of a virtuoso one. Voice and piano are set in an exceedingly resonant ambience (Bismarksaal, WDR Cologne), from which the rather distant piano occasionally suffers. Arte Nova, a budget label, supplies no texts, merely listing the title and author of each song, along with brief notes, artist bios, and production details.
These discs must be accounted an artistic success and a useful addition to the recorded repertoire (many but not all of the songs have been recorded before). Whether or not their appeal will transcend Reger admirers I cannot guess; I recommend them for the delightful children's songs.