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Devoted to Brahms

The MHS Review 240 Vol 3, No 6 May 28, 1979

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David M. Greene

And then one day MHS backed a truck up to my front door and dumped several tons of Reger all over my front porch...


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Here is good news for all you Reger Fellers out there: another increment to bring the Complete Works for Violin and Piano that much nearer to completion. Don't ask me to be more specific. I thought that by now we would be scraping the bottom of the old Heidelberg Tun, but this record seems to contains things not listed in the Catalogue of Works as set forth by the far-from-always­infallible Grove's Dictionary. Never mind-­we'll get to that in a minute. Right now I have something more important to say, which is that I actually enjoyed this record. Moreover. if I were a Reger Feller and wanted to convert some timid soul, I'd try it out on him. Or her. Not that it's typical, however. I think the reason I like it is that Max isn't trying to be pretentious here; mostly he's being the ingenuous folksy sentimental German slob that I suspect he was, behind all that pretense of being Johann Sebastian revivivus.

I'm afraid that heretofore I've let my disappointment in Reger show rather too clearly. I recall that an organ-playing gentleman once took me to task for throwing cool water on a special enthusiasm of his. Unhappily, I don't play the organ, and I suspect that much of my correspondent's enthusiasm had to do not with "passive" listening (how does one listen passively, for gosh sake?). but with the satisfaction of separating with hands and feet the musical strands that too often sound to me like a pot of overcooked spaghetti. Or perhaps my problem lies in having expected too much. For forty-odd years I read repeatedly how Reger was right up there with Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss (all of whom I enshrine in my heart). but that, alas! I was unlikely to hear his parity proved, owing to some dark conspiracy that had eclipsed him. And then one day MHS backed a truck up to my front door and dumped several tons of Reger all over my front porch, and it turned out not to be Beluga caviar or white truffles or humming-birds' tongues-­just spaghetti (however nutritious}. Or maybe--and quite unjustly--1 am unable to

separate that poor ugly, fat, foul-mouthed. beer-soaked. pius Dutchman from his music.

Meanwhile. this is a nice record. No fireworks, no virtuosity. only one fugue, and no spaghetti at all. It begins with a "Suite in Old Style." This would appear to be Op. 93 (if you're keeping score). though no opus is cited. According to Grove's, Op. 93, consists of two such suites, but offers no details. This one consists of a prelude, largo, and (aforesaid) fugue. No writer of suites when the Old Style was new would have been caught dead turning out a suite like that, but Der Maxi was without the benefits of Modern Musicology, so we can forgiven him. His style is not all that Old, either, except in its basic outlines: the harmonic idiom particu­larly is of Reger's time rather than Telemann's or whose-ever. The fugue is rather fun--at least for me, probably because I can hear what is going on, which I can't always do with all those manuals and pedals and bellows.

My information lists next Three Pieces, Op. 79, in D minor. This needs some unscrambling. Op. 79 seems to have been one of those gunnysack opuses into which Reger every now and then swept all the manuscript cluttering up his desktop. Thus we have Op. 79a. 5 piano pieces; Op. 79b, 13 Easy Chorale Preludes for organ; Op. 79c, 8 songs (in 3 Vols.). and Op. 79e, 2 pieces for 'cello and piano. What we have here is Op. 79d, whose letter-designation someone mistook for a key-signature. Grove's says it is violin-and-piano "Pieces (2 Vols.}" Clearly we don't have the entire work, which may or may not appear in the next instalment of this ongoing saga. What we do have is three brief. songful pieces--a simple lullaby sandwiched between two witty faster works. (My listing has the first two pieces reversed.)

The record ends with two pieces that have no opus numbers--doodlings from the workshop. In between is "Op. 103c," said to be songs arranged for violin and piano. Grove ·s lists no such number, but the selections are all from Op. 76, which is made up of 60 Schlichte Weisen (Simple Tunes}, charming and unpretentious settings of ditties mostly by unimportant little poets. The brilliant young baritone Wolfgang Anheisser recorded about a third of the series just before his tragic and senseless death three or four years ago. What I hear here sounds more like a violinist playing vocal parts than any real "arrangement." I shall certainly recommend this selection to those of my friends who "wouldn't mind vocal music if it didn't have words.'_' __ _

Review of Reger At His Best page 17

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