Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concerto in A,
Aria for Violin and Orchestra,
Ulf Wallin (vn); Ulf Schirmer, cond; Munich Radio O
CPO 777736 (SACD: 61:24)
More than half-a-dozen recordings of Max Reger’s self-described “monster” Violin Concerto in A can be found on disc, and three of those—not counting a fourth in a chamber orchestra arrangement made by Rudolf Kolisch for Schoenberg’s Vienna Society for Private
Musical Performances—have been reviewed in
. Two of them fall into the category of historical or archival performances: One, a 1944 performance by Georg Kulenkampff with Willem van Otterloo conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is part of a 13-CD set featuring the Amsterdam orchestra; the other, a performance by Manfred Scherzer with Herbert Blomstedt and the Dresden Staatskapelle is included in a seven-disc set of Reger’s orchestral works featuring various conductors and orchestras and recorded between 1963 and 1984.
Since then, Reger’s just under an hour-long massive concerto hadn’t received much attention on disc, until recently, when all of a sudden, two new recordings appeared, and now, with this one, a third. Violinist Tanja Becker-Bender tackled the work with Lothar Zagrosek and the Berlin Konzerthaus Orchestra for Volume 11 of Hyperion’s “Romantic Violin Concerto” series, and it was reviewed, in 35:5, with reservations, by James H. North, who expressed a preference for a no-longer-available recording by Edith Peinemann. Actually, North might be interested to know that the Peinemann can still be had, though in the form of a download file from various sites. The other quite recent recording is Benjamin Schmid’s with Hannu Lintu and the Tampere Philharmonic on Ondine, a CD that unfortunately I haven’t heard. I do, however, possess the Hyperion disc, and what I can say is that if you have even a passing familiarity with Reger’s orchestral scores, there’s at least one reason why this latest entry from CPO, in co-production with BR Klassik, is the version of the concerto to have.
Reger was anything but sparing when it came to orchestrating his scores; some would call his results dense and opaque. CPO’s new recording of the concerto is the only one to date to take advantage of multichannel SACD technology, and it really makes a difference when it comes to clarifying the concerto’s layered textures. Subtle details emerge here that go unheard in Hyperion’s recording. For example, in this new version, you can actually perceive in measures 22–23 that the first and second violins are playing divisi. Of course, none of this would matter if the soloist wasn’t any good, but Ulf Wallin is a long-time veteran on the recording scene, with nearly three-dozen albums to his name, mostly in late 19th- and early 20th-century repertoire, which puts Reger right up his alley, and, in my opinion, he simply beats Becker-Bender at the game.
In comparing Becker-Bender to Peinemann, North noted in his review that Becker-Bender’s timing of 56:56 felt a bit rushed in places to Peinemann’s 62:23, but Peinemann may be more the exception than the rule, for Wallin and Schirmer’s reading comes in at 56:26, and it doesn’t feel rushed to me at all. Our first recording of a work or the one we’re most familiar with often tends to establish itself in our minds as a model for the way it should go. In any case, I realize that for not a few listeners, acquiring a taste for Reger’s music can take some time and effort, but the violin concerto is a beautiful score, rich in ripe romantic melody and harmony, and Wallin’s playing reveals a genuine love for it. His tone caresses Reger’s lyrical flights in a way that, for me, Becker-Bender’s doesn’t, and technically, Wallin is stunning. His flying staccatos in the big first movement cadenza have a Heifetz-like spring and zing to them, and his double-stopping is surgically clean and accurate.
If you don’t know Reger’s Violin Concerto at all, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find Wallin’s recording a special treat. But even if you already have another version of the work, you owe it to yourself to acquire this one for an outstanding performance and a quite remarkable recording. The Aria for Violin and Orchestra is a five-minute bonus. It’s Reger’s own orchestration of the Aria from his Suite in A Minor for Violin and Piano, which was played at the composer’s funeral by his good friend and colleague, Adolf Busch. This receives my highest recommendation.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in A major, Op. 101 by Max Reger
Ulf Wallin (Violin)
Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1907-1908; Germany
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