Thursday, July 17, 2014

Max Reger's "Sinfonietta" is a full-fledged quasi-Mahler symphony

If you want to find some Mahler-like symphonies, you look at Shostakovich (like #4), Profokiev (like #6), and Havergal Brian (several of the larger early works).  But you can also look at Max Reger.

The Sinfonietta in A Major, Op. 90, is actually cotemporaneous with middle Mahler, introduced in 1906, but it is really a full four-movement symphony for large orchestra.  I have a Berlin Classics CD with Heinz Bongartz conducting the Dresden Philharmonic back in 1973 (ADD), a performance that runs exactly 50 minutes.
The first movement has the unusual (for post-Romanticism) marking “Allegro moderato quasi allegretto”, almost as if it were from an early Beethoven sonata.  The music starts out with a light touch, climbing in triple meter in the strings, and, despite the gentle merriment, becomes thicker.  But it’s the scherzo, “Allegro vivace”, a cruncher in complex meter in D minor, that gets your attention.  It sounds closer to Bruckner than the other three movements.  The constantly modulating angular dance theme yanks you around.  It invaded one of my dreams some years back.  The movement is very formal, with a contrasting trio with many restful, shimmering effects, before returning to the “big rip”.  The movement still sounds formal throughout, even to the fortissimo, Bruckernian close.   The theme itself may remind some listeners of the “scherzo” (also in D Minor) of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto.  The slow movement, Larghetto, has a solo violin part player by Gunter Siering.  The finale, Allegro con spirito, combines all the effects of the first three movements, becoming contrapuntal and fugal (typical of Reger), and restating the mean scherzo motive near the end, before ending triumphantly and joyfully.  The program notes suggest that Reger had intended something like a “Serenade” but the work comes across as fitting right into the world of middle Mahler symphonies and Strauss tone poems. 
The CD includes two 12-minute art songs for alto and orchestra, with Annelies Burmeister, alto:  “An die Hoffnung” (“In the Hope”), Op. 124, and “Hymn of Love”, Op. 136. 
Max Reger’s Violin Concerto, in A, is one of the longest in the literature, running over an hour.  (So does Wilhelm Furtwangler’s Piano Concerto). 

Wikipedia attribution link of picture of Dresden, which I visited in May 1999 for one day (in the former East Germany). 

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