Notes and Editorial Reviews
Reger described his F minor concerto as “a pendant to Brahms’ D minor piano concerto”. It has many features in common with the Brahms although it lacks the thematic inventiveness and lyrical beauty of the earlier work. A very technically demanding piece, it was written for the German pianist Frida Kwast-Hodapp who introduced many piano works by Reger and Busoni to the public. The young Rudolf Serkin championed the work although very few pianists followed Serkin’s lead. More recently Oppitz and Douglas have recorded it and Douglas also couples the work with the Strauss Burleske.
The first movement, like the Brahms D minor, begins with a timpani roll. The thematic material
is very dense and earnest and Hamelin and Volkov treat the movement in a symphonic way with the piano and orchestra acting as equal partners. At almost 18 minutes, it is a very long movement and both pianist and orchestra do an excellent job in referencing the overarching sonata-form structure. Hamelin’s handling of the extremely demanding pyrotechnics is absolutely astonishing particularly given the length of the concerto and the fact that the technical demands are fairly unrelenting.
Hamelin’s tone and phrasing are immaculate in the slow movement and there is some rather lovely dialogue and interplay between pianist and orchestra. I thought Hamelin could perhaps have allowed the piano to sing a little more in this movement and adopted a slightly warmer tone in some of the lush romantic melodies. He captures perfectly the quirky character of the angular opening theme of the finale. Again the fiendish manual challenges are surmounted with ease and a sense of structure is evident. Hamelin also uses a considerable range of tone colour and is highly inventive in the way he characterises the thematic material in the last movement.
Strauss’s Burleske is a very different work to the Reger. It is more light-hearted and with more immediately appealing thematic material: more of a whimsical homage to Brahms than a successor work. It is in one movement and, like the Reger, is a very technically demanding work. Many great pianists have played the Burleske including Argerich, Arrau, Backhaus, Gould, Gulda, Janis, Richter and Serkin. I particularly like Gulda’s recording and that of his most distinguished pupil, Martha Argerich.
Hamelin’s recording is every bit as good as any of the above and it is clear that this is a work which he absolutely relishes playing. Pianist and conductor are as one with the orchestra taking more of an accompanying role and with the orchestral textures much lighter and crisper. Hamelin’s passage-work was perfectly breathtaking throughout, with Hamelin clearly relishing the playful and whimsical nature of the material. He also brought out the lyrical beauty of the waltz episode and allowed the music to breathe in a very sensuous way. The final cadenza was nothing less than a
tour de force. Altogether, this is an absolutely outstanding recording.
-- Robert Beattie, MusicWeb International
Max Reger wrote, "my Piano Concerto is going to be misunderstood for years. The musical language is too austere and too serious; it is, so to speak, a pendant to Brahms' D minor piano concerto." The problem is that for all of Reger's unquestionable workmanship, lavish orchestration, and highly refined handling of chromatic harmony, he's a most unmemorable tunesmith. Moreover, the piano part's tremendous technical challenges offer little pay off in terms of scintillation and surface display. Still, the work continues to fascinate a handful of pianists in each generation, and because recordings of the concerto are few and far between, any new version is bound to get attention. On balance, Marc-André Hamelin and Ilan Volkov offer the finest interpretation since Serkin/Ormandy. So far as the piano part is concerned, Hamelin's refinement, tonal palette, and wide-ranging arsenal of articulations conveys more expressive variety next to the comparably proficient yet bleak and monochrome Michael Korstick, or the warmer-toned yet square Gerhard Oppitz. The first movement's thick chordal climaxes are a case in point, where Hamelin's shapelier phrasing best communicates the composer's "molto agitato" wishes. Another good example can be found in the finale.
There are two ways to project what little humor Reger could muster in music that I like to describe as a "cakewalk for pachyderms": one is to adapt Serkin's lean, angular pose; another is to clip the staccato notes to the point of exaggeration and similarly play up the accented notes, which Hamelin and Volkov do marvelously. Hamelin's subtle voicings and careful adherence to Reger's detailed expressive markings also yield greater animation and character in the central Largo movement, although there's something to be said for Korstick's markedly slower tempo and concentrated reserve. Nor do the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra winds blend to the mellifluous degree of their Bamberg (Oppitz) and Munich (Korstick) colleagues.
The Strauss Burleske is a welcome disc mate (some collectors may remember a similar and excellent 1998 Reger/Strauss coupling from Barry Douglas and Marek Janowski on RCA; it ought to be reissued). Hamelin's long-lined legato touch in the unaccompanied passages stands out, and so does his witty, debonair timing and placement of short chords so that the subsequent silences make you smile. This is why Hamelin is the Bugs Bunny of the piano. If you want Daffy Duck, try Martha Argerich's wilder, more impetuous, and just as technically astonishing rendition from the 1992 New Year's Eve Concert with a more incisive, tonally sumptuous accompaniment from Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic. In all, this release is one of the strongest entries in Hyperion's landmark Romantic Piano Concerto series, and is highly recommended.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano in F minor, Op. 114 by Max Reger
Marc-André Hamelin (Piano)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1910; Germany
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Concerto (Reger): III. Allegretto con spirito
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