Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Viola Suites: No. 1; No. 2; No. 3.
Cello Suites: No. 1; No. 2
Tabea Zimmermann (va)
MYRIOS 19355 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 65:37)
If you were a music student in the 1960s, one of the jokes circulating at the time
went something like this: “Poor Schubert, always looking for God; poor God, always looking for Bruckner.” I’ve always wondered to myself if the “poor God” side of the equation wouldn’t have been more apt had it referred to Reger instead of Bruckner. But I suppose what made it funny was that at least Bruckner achieved sufficient notoriety to earn him, for a time, the coveted “most hated composer” trophy; whereas Reger flew too far under the radar to draw fire. In fact, he is probably best remembered today, not for his music, but for his acerbic reply to a critic in which he described how he was sitting in the smallest room of his house with the critic’s review before him, and how it would soon be behind him. Today of course it’s not so easy to make those unflattering reviews disappear down the plumbing, what with low-flush toilets and electronic media preserving them forever.
The fact, though, is that Bruckner and Reger have much in common. Both were organists and of an abiding Catholic faith, both were masters of dense and complex polyphonic procedures, and both shared a common denominator in Liszt, whose organ works, with their chromatic counterpoint and religious symbolism, made a strong impression on them. Where Bruckner’s muse found inspiration in the mysticism of the Church and musical expression in Gothic symphonic cathedrals, Reger’s muse found its inspiration in Bach and musical outlet in the formal devices of variations and fugue. He once remarked, “Other people write fugues; I live inside of them.” To the underlying Bachian vocabulary, of course, Reger added the extended harmonies of Wagner and applied the free modulation and free tonality practices of Busoni, Zemlinksy, and others of the period.
Of Reger’s three suites for solo viola, only the first in G-Minor has stirred more than occasional interest, with a recording by Yuri Bashmet of a souped-up version with orchestral accompaniment. One wonders why, with such limited repertoire for their instrument, more violists haven’t taken up the suites. Following up a set of six preludes and fugues for solo violin and three suites for solo cello, Reger wished to add to Bach’s range of works for solo string instruments by including the viola. His three suites for the instrument are of the four-movement sonata type as opposed to the dance-movement suites of Bach’s unaccompanied works for cello and the three partita-type works for unaccompanied violin, so I suppose it’s a bit odd that Reger called them suites instead of sonatas. On a technical level, the viola suites do not present the enormous challenges of wall-to-wall double and triple stopping found in Bach’s solo violin works, nor are they virtuosic display pieces in the manner of Ysaÿe’s six sonatas for unaccompanied violin. Reger’s writing for the viola, which gives voice to its throaty mid-register and treats it, in the main, as a melody instrument, is quite beautiful. Of course, Tabea Zimmermann, playing a lovely modern (1980) instrument by French luthier Étienne Vatelot, has a lot to do with making Reger’s suites so fetching.
The two Bach suites, transcribed from their original cello versions, are, according to the booklet notes, based on manuscripts by the composer’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, dating from between 1727 and 1731. They are placed on the disc in between Reger’s suites, and since they are true dance-movement suites—unlike Reger’s, which are technically sonatas—the effect is to create a kind of alternating set of sonatas and partitas similar to Bach’s set for solo violin. Heard on viola, I don’t think the Bach suites have quite the richness of tone and fullness of sonority they have on modern cello. Still, Zimmermann plays them with great warmth and a sense of tender affection, and the hybrid multichannel SACD is very detailed, setting the soloist in an open, ever-so-slightly reverberant acoustic that creates a feeling of space and depth.
Reger may be an acquired taste, but his viola suites are immediately appealing and don’t require any working up to them. Very nice, and very recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title