The old model for creating a hit classical recording – big-name soloist plus big-name conductor in major repertory work – is not so common anymore, but this live Brahms recording from the Staatskapelle Berlin under Venezuela's Gustavo Dudamel, with Argentine-Israeli-Palestinian-Spanish pianist Daniel Barenboim as soloist, shows that there's life in the concept yet. One could point to the virtues of pianist and conductor separately: it's a rare septuagenarian who can combine power and clear articulation of detail the way Barenboim does, and Dudamel builds a vast sweep in, especially, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. But it's the way that the two work together that really makes news. Chalk it up to shared South American heritage or to whatever the listener wants, but the way the orchestra and piano define separate spheres and work them together is extraordinary. Again, it is in the Piano Concerto No. 1 and its Beethovenian drama that their mutual understanding is most evident, but there is a sense of great variety powerfully unified throughout.
This is Reger at his most accessible. In both pieces there is plenty of atmosphere and colour. The Hiller Variations is possibly his greatest and most satisfying orchestral work and is indispensable. Reger was a prolific composer, and it has to be said not all that came from his pen was necessarily memorable. However, the two works on this disc are vintage Reger. He lived his short life as fast as he composed his music. His is a special and unique sound-world which offers great rewards to those who take the time to explore it. Radiant playing from the Concertgebouw under Jarvi and sound to match.
Michaela Schuster, the wonderful singer, explores the beauty of the romantic Lied literature on this programme wiuth sensitivity and enthusiasm, together with the empathetic Markus Sclemmer. This recording was made in the dreamlike atmosphere of the Eppan Lied Summer Festival, in which it is not difficult to sense the inspiration from this location and atmosphere.
In both volume and artistic distinction there is little doubt that Reger was the greatest German composer for the organ since Bach. He relished Lutheran chorales and employed them freely, a sense of grandeur and gravity permeating his music for the instrument. The Suite No. 1 in E minor was completed in 1895, and admired by Brahms. Its four movements offer a compendium of Reger’s genius for both complexity and transparency. His later Suite No. 2 in G minor, cast in seven taut movements, similarly employs contrast, imitation and variety whilst ending in a glorious and triumphant Fugue.
A second disc from new chamber choir Consortium, who were acclaimed for their disc of Brahms’s secular partsongs. Although Reger’s music has partly recovered from its deeply unfashionable reputation, much of this prolific composer’s work still remains underperformed. This disc offers a chance to redress the balance, both by bringing to light an aspect of Reger’s output that has been relatively neglected, and by demonstrating that the important influences on him were not just musical but literary.