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Reger: Romantic Suite, Four Tone Poems after Arnold Bocklin / Schmidt-isserstedt

Reger / Sinfonieorch Des Norddeutschen Rundfunks
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Acanta/Pilz   Catalog #: 233594   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Max Reger
Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

REGER A Romantic Suite, Op. 125. 4 Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin, Op. 128 Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, cond; NDR RSO ACANTA 233594 (53:36)

Obviously, this is not a new recording. The Romantic Suite was recorded in 1967 and the Böcklin Poems in 1972, a year before Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt’s death at the Read more age of 73. This very CD—same label, different number (43077)—appeared 25 years ago when it was first transferred to digital in 1986. For its current reincarnation, the original recording has been remastered. Before checking the current listings, I would have said that these two large orchestral scores were Reger’s only works from his voluminous output to have made it into the mainstream recorded repertoire. But when I checked the listings, I was surprised to find fewer currently available recordings than I would have expected. At one time I believe there were more, but as of now ArkivMusic displays only five listings for the Romantic Suite , those by Hans Zender, Leo Botstein, Gerd Albrecht, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and a 1960 mono recording by Hermann Scherchen with the Northwest German Philharmonic in a two-disc CPO set, reviewed by James H. North in 12:4.

The Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin (often referred to as the Böcklin Suite ) looks to have perhaps one or two more entries listed than the Romantic Suite does, but in two cases, the above-mentioned Botstein with the London Philharmonic on Telarc and the current Schmidt-Isserstedt, there’s overlap, with both recordings pairing the Böcklin and Romantic suites. I’d just note that the most opulent and gripping performance of the Böcklin tone poems I know can still be found in the catalog; it’s the one on Chandos with Neeme Järvi conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and it’s coupled with an equally beautiful reading of Reger’s Hiller Variations. I’m quite sure, too, that most, if not all, of Fanfare ’s well-versed readers know that for the third tone poem in the Böcklin Suite , Reger drew his inspiration from the same “Isle of the Dead” painting that had inspired Rachmaninoff five years earlier.

If you’re not familiar with either of these Reger pieces, their style is easy to describe. Written back-to-back— A Romantic Suite in 1912, the Böcklin poems in 1913—the music is perfectly in sync with its time and place. Richard Strauss joins pre-12-tone Schoenberg in a highly chromatic, densely-textured, freely tonal melee and a riot of orchestral colors. Imagine some of the refracted waltz fragments from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier combined with selected passages from Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder , and you’ll have a good idea of what these two Reger scores are like. Of course, there are other influences as well; gaseous vapors escape from the graves of Wagner and the recently deceased Mahler to bubble up and percolate through Reger’s orchestra.

Not having the original Schmidt-Isserstedt release, I’m unable to compare its un-remastered version to this new remastered one, but I can say that the Hamburg FonoTeam has made a fine job of it. Compared to more recent recordings, the sound does seem slightly compressed dynamically and perhaps a bit restricted in frequency range, but it’s not occluded. There’s good separation between the orchestra’s sections, and inner details emerge with clarity, if not particular brilliance. Overall, Schmidt-Isserstedt’s readings are more inclined towards warmth and perhaps an almost understated temperamental evenness than they are towards dramatic urgency. But then Reger was not one to express himself in emotional histrionics, and the music seems to suit Schmidt-Isserstedt’s lower-keyed style quite well. As tributes to the respected and distinguished conducting career of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, these performances can be recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins    
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Works on This Recording

Romantic Suite, Op. 125 by Max Reger
Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1912; Germany 
Length: 28 Minutes 34 Secs. 
Tone Poems (4) after Arnold Böcklin, Op. 128 by Max Reger
Conductor:  Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  North German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1913; Germany 
Length: 24 Minutes 9 Secs. 

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