Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues
Friday 07 June 1996
Staatskapelle Berlin / Otmar Suitner
(Berlin Classics 0091232BC)
Boring, pedantic, academic, dry, tuneless ... with a reputation like that, who'd bother to investigate further? And yet Max Reger wrote music that was as sensual as Debussy (try the Ballet Suite's "Pierrot and Pierette"), as seductive as Strauss (the "Valse d'amour" that follows) and as beefy as Brahms (virtually all of the Beethoven Variations).
So why the rumours of dullness? Probably because Reger's pre-occupation with counterpoint and modulation could, on occasion, crowd the wood with too many trees, though take the trouble to listen (a page of Reger sounds far better than it looks) and the ear responds, the mind is fully engaged.
The Concerto in the Olden Style is a Romantic expansion of the Baroque concerto grosso and while a marked predilection for massive climaxes makes huge boulders where fencing would have sufficed, balance is restored with an exquisitely voiced Largo. The present CD enshrines compelling performances, all of which serve Reger well, save for the odd spot of sour tuning and a bold but constricted recording (heard live, the Variations' epic Fugue mounts an inexhaustible crescendo). Do give Reger a chance - and if you're in search of attractive quiz material, the Ballet Suite will fox all but those who already know it.
Gielen's Beethoven cycle is only "part reissued". For example, this particular CD was first released by Intercord in 1993, but the First, Second, Third and Eighth symphonies are all new. As for digital competition, there's nothing to touch it - certainly not at mid-price. The Fourth opens to a swiftly stalking Adagio, so that when the Allegro vivace pounces we're already primed.
Gielen combines traditional sonorities with some dangerously fast speeds; come the first movement's eerie central episode and rather than slow down, he takes Beethoven at his word, keeps up the pace and effects a leaping return to the opening idea. It's a thrilling moment, though some will weigh a rather clipped slow movement against it.
Spatially separated violins pay high dividends in both the symphonies, especially in the first movement of the Fourth and the finale of the Seventh. Gielen gallops through the Seventh's Vivace and leaves his personal mark on the Allegretto by having the strings pluck rather than bow their final phrases.
The Scherzo goes off like a rocket, and so does the finale, but what one remembers most is the manner in which individual phrases connect, the dynamic leeway that Gielen allows his players and the fact that, for all their visceral excitement, both performances have brains as well as brawn.
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 4 & 7
SWF Symphony Orchestra / Michael Gielen
(EMI Classics 7243 5 60092 2 6)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets
Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Iain Duncan Smith's expenses credit card is suspended after he runs up £1,000 debt to taxpayer
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 5 Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to divorce and end their 10-year marriage
Top Gear: Former co-host James May to present new BBC2 car show
The Rolling Stones announce biggest ever touring rock exhibition with Saatchi Gallery
Glastonbury 2015: The best bits you missed from Lionel Richie and the Dalai Lama to The Libertines' secret set
Glastonbury 2015: The picture of a man crowd surfing in a wheelchair is brilliant, but it wasn't taken at Glastonbury
Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James' Twitter Q&A didn't exactly go as planned
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS