Mstation Classical Reviews

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Mon, 30 May 2005

Reger, Bach and Telemann Variations

Max Reger (1873-1916)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.S. Bach op.81 [30.14]
Variations and fugue on a Theme of G.P. Telemann Op.134 [39.55]

Mark Latimer - piano

Recorded in All SaintsÕ Church, Petersham, England on 4 & 5 April 1994
Warner Classics 2564 61718-2 [70.38]

If heÕs remembered at all, and by most people he isnÕt, Max Reger is regarded as a composer who wrote music for big German organs. He is also remembered, by people more interested in him, as one of the early adherents to the religion of J.S. Bach. Many of his great organ works are based on the structures and styles of the organ works of Bach, and an interest in counterpoint, pretty rare in the opera-obsessed late 19th/early 20th century, (even in Germany) singled Reger out for polarisation of opinion by the popular authorities of the day. This was a fate he shared with that other great organist and Bachophile, the Frenchman Cesar Franck. Apart from his organ works, Reger wrote a large quantity of piano music, but this is rarely heard. Here is an opportunity to do something about it. Mark LatimerÕs performance of these massive sets of variations is nothing less than consummate and the music itself is not only eminently listenable, but fascinating in construction.

The Bach variations, dating from 1904, are the earlier work and here Reger shows not only seemingly inexhaustible invention across the 14 variations, but an even more impressive grasp of massive architectural form, all 14 variations melding into a gigantic whole. The colossal fugue that concludes the work consists of two seemingly independent yet interdependent four-part fugues, followed by the most spectacular denouement integrating them both. Frankly, to the pianistically incompetent listener it is impossible to see how Latimer manages to play all the notes, let alone all the music those notes imply. However, he seems able to throw these vast works around with apparent ease and a constantly beautiful, if necessarily powerful, tone. This contrast is apparent in the theme of the Bach variations Š a slow aria from Cantata 128 Š in which Latimer makes the opening, quiet, chords shine with a luminescence that is probably only possible with the hands of an absolute master on a large Steinway piano. The excellent recording quality and subtle incorporation of the recording venueÕs acoustic goes no small way to assist.

The slightly later Telemann Variations, at nearly 40minutes long (including the noted decision to arbitrarily omit the second half repeats to make the work fit on a CD) is a consummate work of variation writing. Lighter in style than the Bach Variations, it nonetheless allows Reger to run the gamut of emotions and colours, as well as pianistic techniques, based on a fairly simple Minuet theme from one of TelemannÕs famous Tafelmusik suites. Mark Latimer has the measure of this music just as much as in the Bach and allows the joyful virtuosity to gambol about without hindrance. The technical display of his playing is quite astonishing, and the fugue, once thought to be unplayable, makes a fitting culmination. Exceptionally impressive music, played with all the style it demands makes this a fascinating and highly recommendable release.

© 2005 Peter Wells

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