Notes and Editorial Reviews
Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart.
Konzertstück in F,
Herbert Blomstedt, cond; Dresden Staatskapelle; Cologne West German RSO;
Dresden St Op Ch
PROFIL 7003 (74:00)
There have not been many recordings of any of Reger’s orchestral music, and fewer still that have remained in print. None of these works can really be claimed as well known nowadays, but the Mozart
(the most “substantial” work on this program) has proven far and away the most popular. ArkivMusic.com lists 16 recordings, though at least three are historical in nature, and, of the rest, it is difficult to say how many are truly competitive. I would actually rate this 1990 Blomstedt performance slightly higher than Kurt Masur’s polished 1992 New York Philharmonic performance on Teldec, which was the gold standard for James North (writing about Suitner’s recording in the “complete” Reger orchestral music on Berlin Classics (30:4)). Barry Brenesal liked a historical recording by Carl Schuricht, which I have not heard, and many other recordings have flown under my radar. I prize Blomstedt, not to denigrate Masur’s reading, but because there is a feverish energy and spaciousness to his live recording that is breathtaking and uncommon in any Reger recordings. This is music not played as a “classic,” but as a voyage of discovery; Masur invokes in his recording an altogether cooler, drier temperament that seems, in the end, cautious. The
take the famous opening theme from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K 331, through a path analogous to Brahms’s
, with swirling chromaticism, and colorful textural transformations. The work moves more adventurously through contrasting moods and textures than many more famous variation sets of its era, with the closest comparison to Elgar’s nearly contemporaneous “Enigma.” In contrast to the Brahms
, with which it is most often compared and which end with an extended sonata-like finale, Reger subjects his main theme to a massive extended fugue. This typically Regerian tick can cause even the most carefully shaped readings up to that point to seize up in granitic stasis, as indeed is the case with Masur’s New York performance, but Blomstedt keeps things driving through sheer kinetic force. He also keeps the textures clearly delineated, no easy feat; wind and strings are carefully balanced, the latter marked by a silken sheen and uniform phrasing.
The other items on the program are well worth the price of admission. Schumann’s engaging Konzertstück for four horns has a forward momentum and sense of
that goes beyond what one usually encounters. Even the occasional muffed note, almost unavoidable in a live concert recording of this difficult work, cannot dim the thrilling, satisfying buzz of the Dresden horns, long the pride of the orchestra. Weber’s
Overture has similar virtues, with the horns once again shining.
The disc concludes with a festive
by 18th-century composer Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1740–1801). Appointed by Hasse as church composer at Dresden in the 1760s, Naumann eventually moved up to Kapellmeister by the mid 1770s; hence his significance to this recording, which comes across as a glorious celebration of Blomstedt’s tenure with this great orchestra. It is a somewhat forgettable work, but here energetically performed. It relies for development on thoroughly conventional cycles of fifths and sequences, but it has a convincingly vital forward momentum that Blomstedt adeptly conveys, and remarkably animated, pulsing string pianissimos. The forward-balanced chorus projects clear diction, but is less steady in softer passages, which betray the echo-chamber weaknesses of this era of recording. Recorded in 1980, the
is the earliest item on the disc, coming from the middle tenure of Blomstedt’s music directorship.
An admirable celebration of one of the more glorious periods in the orchestra’s history; warmly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Variations and Fugue on a theme of Mozart, Op. 132 by Max Reger
Written: 1914; Germany
Length: 32 Minutes 18 Secs.
Concertstück for 4 Horns and Orchestra in F major, Op. 86 by Robert Schumann
Peter Damm (French Horn),
Dieter Pansa (French Horn),
Klaus Pietzonka (French Horn),
Johannes Friemel (French Horn)
Written: 1849; Germany
Length: 18 Minutes 5 Secs.
Oberon, J 306: Overture by Carl Maria von Weber
Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1825-1826; Dresden, Germany
Length: 8 Minutes 54 Secs.
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