Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin,
No. 1 in a; No. 2 in D; No. 3 in B?; No. 4 in b; No. 5 in e; No. 6 in G; No. 7 in a
Ulrike-Anima Mathé (vn)
DORIAN 90915 (2 CDs: 115:44)
Having just reviewed a recording of Reger’s suites for solo viola with Tabea Zimmermann for the previous issue, I was pleased to receive this sumptuously reconstituted set from Dorian of the composer’s complete op. 91 sonatas for solo violin. Max Reger, it
seems, is beginning to attract more mainstream attention and more of an audience than has heretofore been the case.
Reger’s seven sonatas for solo violin are important additions to the repertoire, and choice in recorded versions is extremely limited. Therefore, I do not wish to be too critical of this retread, which was originally (and still is) available as two separate discs. But I must get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Once upon a time, Dorian was roundly criticized for recordings with such excessive reverberation that they sounded like they’d been made in an echo chamber. The company apparently took the criticism to heart, for their releases that followed were significantly less echoey. Unfortunately, these not-new recordings, made in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, New York, in 1992 and 1994, come from a period during which Dorian’s engineers were pursuing their sinful ways. I’ve heard quite a few more recent recordings that emanate from this venue, so I can vouch for the fact that it’s a hall with superb acoustics that sound nothing like this. The impression one receives the instant Ulrike-Anima Mathé’s bow touches the strings is of a vast, cavernous space that makes her violin sound three times normal size and dimensionally distorted.
That being said, judgment of Mathé’s playing should not be based on what her makeup artists did to pump it up on steroids. She articulates Reger’s difficult double-stopping and string crossings cleanly and with exceptional incisiveness. Her left-hand work is equally deft, capable of delivering pitch-perfect intonation and invigorating velocity. And though it’s hard to judge her tone quality due to the souped-up sound, I suspect that it would be quite pleasing to hear in a normal setting.
Reger-phobia is unwarranted. Anyone who has ever read anything about Reger or had any exposure to his music knows that he was obsessive-compulsive when it came to writing fugues, and that he had a “thing” about Bach. That fixation, however, led to the creation of some fascinating and intellectually stimulating music. If you enjoy listening to Bach’s sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin, you are virtually guaranteed to enjoy Reger’s sonatas, for they are Bach revisited and reheard through 1905 ears.
The technical difficulties posed by Reger’s sonatas are similar to those posed by Bach’s works for unaccompanied violin. To produce the harmony and the effect of multiple voices engaged in contrapuntal interplay, it is necessary to notate miles of double- and triple-stops and awkward string crossings, something that is neither easy nor natural to play on an instrument better suited to producing a single-voiced melody. Thus, works of this type require a technical whiz of virtuoso caliber, but they are not virtuosic display pieces in the same way that Paganini’s, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s, or Eugène Ysaÿe’s somewhat later works for solo violin are. Reger’s sonatas, however, are no more boring, academic exercises than are Bach’s sonatas and partitas. The initial appeal may be intellectual, but gradually the music grows on you and blossoms into something entirely satisfying on an emotional level.
At the time these recordings were made, Mathé showed every promise of being a rising star. I’m not quite sure what has happened to her since. I reviewed a cpo CD of Friedrich Kiel’s piano quartets in
31:5 in which she played violin; but other than that, on record at least, it doesn’t appear that she’s been very active, which is too bad, because her playing here is exceptionally good. And, as mentioned above, recordings of Reger’s op. 91 complete are few and far between. The only other current listing I find is on Troubadisc with violinist Renate Eggebrecht-Kupsa. Her account of the sonatas may be very fine (she has way more recordings listed than does Mathé), but I haven’t heard it.
Reger’s sonatas need not appeal exclusively to listeners who have a special interest in music for solo violin. So, provisionally recommended, as long as you can adjust to the recorded sound. Otherwise, you might wish to explore Eggebrecht-Kupsa’s version, although it’s pricey. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure since it was not yet listed at the time of writing, that the Dorian set, being a repackaging job, may be sold as a twofer.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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