Max Reger (1873-1916)
Friday, August 25, 2023
Berliner Philharmonie, Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße, Berlin
Max Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart (Opus 132; 1914) opened the Berliners’ 23-24 season, the expressive Mozart Theme, from the first movement of his A-major Piano Sonata (K331), beguilingly presented by Reger (woodwinds alternating with strings), cues a chain of commentaries that signals his musical fecundity, different characters – plenty of charm, eloquence and vivacity, with no lack of wit or suggestiveness – the Mozart starting-point threaded through the whole, and concluding with a complex Fugue that ends majestically, K331 ringing out. Kirill Petrenko and the Philharmoniker (classical scoring plus harp, no trombones) gave a beautifully played and affectionate account with pristine detailing and telling dynamics. A very rewarding thirty minutes.
Richard Strauss, and also Schoenberg, were admirers of Reger, so Ein Heldenleben made a larger-orchestra and storytelling counterpart – composer as Hero – Petrenko much concerned with direction and clarity, and not giving away too much too soon, so there was a glorious but not indulgent sweep to the opening section, chartered inexorably, followed by a particularly garrulous and vicious collection of Critics, and then the love interest, soprano Pauline de Ahna, Strauss’s wife, wonderfully portrayed by concertmaster Vineta Sareika-Völkner. Disturbing the curtains-pulled bliss were ideally distant trumpets – a call to arms – the ensuing Battle being chamber music writ very large and from all directions, although the eight horns were not found wanting when pealing victory, with then an opportunity for repose to look-back at achievements (Strauss self-quoting from his catalogue as it then stood), sepia-tinted in Berlin, and from there to holding hands during a sunset, violin and horn romancing, the concluding bars nicely contented, summated and faded to an appreciative silence.