The music includes two string trios: Beethoven’s Op. 9, No. 3, in C minor, and the Schubert B-flat, D. 471. Schumann’s powerful E-flat major Piano Quartet, Op. 47, is also on the program, and then there’s one of the three solo cello suites of Reger — in D minor, Op. 131c, No. 2. Van Eck is going to record all three of the solo Reger suites in the coming months, and I’ll be eager to hear them.
Reger, a tall, large man who died of a heart attack at just 43, was critically derided for decades because of his ornate, thick style, his long-windedness and his essentially dead-serious body of work. At first he sounds a lot like a Wagnerian Brahms, but without the tunes, and yet when I play some of the pieces from his Op. 82 collection, Aus Meinem Tagebuch, I find someone who’s more like the Schoenberg of Verklaerte Nacht.
Reger died in 1916, and some of the most radical music of the century had already been written, but this music sounds in many places like he would have been not far behind his colleagues, if he took longer to get there.
The most crucial composer for Reger was Bach, and much of what he wrote has a contrapuntal feel. Organists play his music a good deal, but it would be welcome to hear some more of his chamber music. He wrote a gargantuan amount of music in his short life — something like 1,000 pieces – and I don’t know of any concerted effort right now for a serious exploration of his chamber music in performance, to say nothing of the rest of his work.
But it looks to me that interest in Reger is growing. I have heard his music more often in the past five years that I can remember before, including a flute, violin and viola trio at this year’s Palm Beach Chamber Music Festival, and a lovely Reger arrangement of a Bach organ prelude for chamber orchestra in last year’s season of the Boca Raton Symphonia.
And one of Reger’s songs — the Maria Wiegenlied from his 60-song Op. 76 collection (it’s No. 52) — seems to be getting sung more frequently at Christmastime. It’s a lovely piece that makes good use of the folksong Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, amid a Wolf-like chromaticism that gives this tender song a heartfelt emotionalism that’s hard to resist.
It could be that Max Reger’s time has come at last. As the world’s performing organizations look in the libraries for good music from the Romantic era that they might have missed, Reger offers a very large selection to look through.
Here are two YouTube videos of music by Reger. The first is soprano Renee Fleming singing in Mainz in 2005 the Maria Wegenlied, and the second is a young Russian pianist named Igor Levit who won second prize in the 2005 Rubinstein Competition. In this performance, Levit does a masterful job of the fugue from Reger’s Telemann Variations, Op. 134.
And here’s the Levit performance: