8. Recommended works and recordings

Drawing of Reger by Czerny

On this page, a selection of works written by Max Reger is presented which rightly deserve the attention of the music lover.

Orchestral works
The two large variational works for orchestra are by far the most popular of Reger's orchestral music. Personally I prefer the "Hiller variations" opus 100. There is so very much beautiful music in this work that it deserves to be listened to as much as possible. There are two recordings of this work which can be fully recommended: Colin Davis conducting the Sinfonie Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, released on ORFEO; and Neeme Järvi conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, released on CHANDOS.
The affinity Reger developed in writing orchestral music becomes obvious when one is listening to "Eine Romantische Suite" opus 125. The Scherzo is an example of the intense subtlety of Reger's work, a highlight in the history of orchestral composition. Fortunately, several recordings are available. Notable among these is a very driven and subtle performance by Herman Scherchen. The orchestral playing does not in all parts pay respect to the conductor's standards, but this seems to have no impact on the performance as a whole. The recording quality is good, given the recording date (1959). This release by CPO contains, at mid-price, a nice selection of Reger's orchestral works, among which "An die Hoffnung" (see below). Other good performances of "Eine Romantische Suite" are conducted by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt on ACANTHA and Gerd Zacher on KOCH.
It should be noted here that KOCH released recordings of all (except one: opus 140) orchestral works of Max Reger. A brave deed, probably not earning much financial profit.
"Eine Ballett-Suite" is a subtle masterpiece. Most conductors consequently obscure the immense number of details that Reger put in this score. The best performance now available is conducted by Kurt Graunke and is available (2006) on Edition Sedina E.S. 153 (www.edition-sedina.de). Kurt Graunke uses a relatively small orchestra (ca. 60 members) of which the members were personally selected by the conductor himself. He also takes great care to bring about the numerous details of the score.

Solo instruments with orchestra
The "Pianoconcerto" opus 114 is a complicated and concentrated work. The piano and orchestral parts are intensely interwoven. It is music which asks the listener to be listening more than once.
This concerto was impressively played and recorded by Rudolf Serkin, the Philadelphia Orchestra being conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Although dating from 1959, this recording has never been surpassed in intensity of playing, colourfulness of the alternating sections and virtuosity of both orchestral and pianistic playing. Serkin verily erected a monument for Max Reger. Recent releases are on SONY or CBS.

Songs with orchestra
Of this category of works, one piece stands out: "An die Hoffnung" opus 124 for alto and orchestra. This piece contains what may very well be the most beautiful music Reger ever wrote. Several recordings are available. The oldest of these is conducted by Hermann Scherchen and sung by Margarete Bence, a unusually driven performance. The specialty of this recording lies in the playfullness with which musical details are performed. Like coupled performances on this release, it is not obvious how difficult it sometimes is, to play Reger's music and this must be considered one of the special qualities of the conducting style of Hermann Scherchen. The release is in a 2CD-box at mid-price by CPO.
The performance sung by Annelies Burmeister, accompagnied by the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra with Heinz Bongartz swaying the baton, is easily available (at mid-price). Orchestral playing as well as the interpretation by Mrs. Burmeister are very sensitive. This very good recorded performance is released on BERLIN CLASSICS (009 1222BC) and can be recommended heartily.
Of the others, I must unfortunately not recommend the recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Orfeo, which is a technical performance, only seemingly without any affinity to Reger's subtle musical diction. Although the singing of Fisher-Dieskau is according to his own high standards, the balance between orchestra, choir and soloist is far from being acceptable, modern recording standards considered.
The most recent recording is conducted by Claudio Abbado and has been released on Sony.
My favorite recording is, alas, not available on commercial basis: in my collection of recordings conducted by Eugen Jochum there exists a tape-recording of a live-performance from november 1980, sung by Glenda Maurice. The subtlety of Reger's music is perfectly matched with the possibilities of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra and Jochum's conducting style. The playing and singing is glorious and makes a lasting impression on any music lover.

Choral works
Near the end of his life, Reger wrote the "Requiem" opus 144b for alto, choir and orchestra after a text by Hebbel. This work contains very moving and emotional music. A very good recording was released by KOCH (coupled with the unfinished Latin Requiem). Unfortunately, the Orfeo release has less merits and should not be recommended as such.
For choir-only, the "Acht Geistliche Gesänge" opus 138 are among the most beautiful works Reger wrote. The last hours of his life, he spent reading proofs of exactly the first of these works: "Der Mensch lebt und besteht nur eine kleine Zeit". A few minutes later, while reading a Leipzig newspaper, he passed away.
A very beautiful and high-rated performance of the "Acht Geistliche Gesänge" is recorded on THOROPHON (this release also includes a very moving recording of a performance of Reger's unfinished "Vater Unser").

Organ music
The B-A-C-H Fantasy and Fugue opus 46 always give a good first impression to the new listener, but the chromatism is sometimes to much for little children (as I once observed).
The "Variationen über ein Original Thema opus 73" brings the listener into a new musical world. It is necessary to listen to this music very concentratedly. The reward, however, will be great. It is my personal favorite among the large number of organ works written by Reger. A very analytical performance was recorded by Donald Joyce, played on the organ of Norwich Cathedral and released on CARLTON CLASSICS (IMP-series).
The pieces collected as "Zwölf Stücke für die Orgel" opus 59 give the newly started Reger - organ listener maybe an easier point of stepping into Reger's organ music. Especially the Toccata, Fuge, Benedictus and Pastorale are beautiful written pieces which will last in memory.
Of course, the reference edition of all of Reger's organ works is played by Rosalinde Haas for release on MDG.

Piano music
The cyclus "Träume am Kamin" opus 143 should win any piano player or listener to piano music for Reger's art. The Swiss label JECKLIN recorded the performance of John Buttrick.
The "Telemann variations" opus 134 were recorded for Decca by Jorge Bolet. Playing and recording are according to the highest standards and rightly deserve to be highly estimated. However, the recording of this work by Frida Kwast-Hodapp (see the page on the Welte-recordings) opens a totally different world which is probably more near Reger's intentions.
The immense "Bach variations" opus 81 guarantee Reger's place as Master-composer. The recently published recording by Rudolf Serkin on BBC even outmatches the later Serkin-recording on Sony/CBS.
The complete piano works were recorded by Markus Becker on Thorofon, this is the reference edition.
Discussions on the complete piano work of Max Reger were provided by Helmut Brauss (1994).
For two pianos, Reger wrote some two hours of music. The "Beethoven variations" opus 86 stand out for their liveliness and virtuosity. Berlin Classics recently released, at low-budget price, a former Eterna-recording with a good performance.
The kontarsky brothers recorded an even better performance of this work back in the sixties of the 20th century for Da Camera, unfortunately not yet released on CD.

Chamber music
The last work completed by Max Reger is the famous "Clarinet Quintet" opus 146. The noblety of the musical language of this work has been unsurpassed since. As Paul Hindemith justly said: "Max Reger war die letzte Riese in der Musik". This sentence can be better understood after hearing this beautiful work. There are several very nice performances recorded of this work. My personal favorite is the old DGG recording of the performance of the Drolc-quartet with Karl Leister on clarinet. This was recently re-issued as a license issue by Trio-CD (2005). Listening to the 3rd part especially provides a good start for any music lover not used to Reger's music. A guide to the Clarinet Quintet has been written by Roland Häfner and was published by Wilhelm Fink Verlag, München.