Marc-André Hamelin; RSO Berlin; Ilan Volkov
Like a big meal, the Max Reger piano concerto in F minor, Op. 114 is a challenge both to serve up and to digest. Admired by Berg and Schoenberg for his commitment to modernism, Reger nevertheless admitted that his concerto would be misunderstood for years. Its critical rejection in 1910 caused him personal distress, loss of health and an early death at age 43.
Pianist Marc-André Hamelin’s performance in this recording is a jaw-dropper. He meets Reger’s relentless demand for highly articulate virtuosity with apparent ease. He also finds rare melodic ideas in an otherwise dense storm of rhythmically driven motives.
Reger’s music is contrapuntally thick and Hamelin works wonderfully with conductor Ilan Volkov to ensure that the orchestral score remains balanced, especially in the concerto’s often frenetic outer movements. The second movement, however, allows only a partial respite from this tumult. The tender moments here are a compliment to both pianist and conductor and provide a stark contrast to the rest of the work.
The Steinway used in the recording stands up remarkably well. Despite the heavy playing its tuning holds rock steady throughout the entire first movement – nearly eighteen minutes!
The other item on this CD is a clever choice. Its late 19th century vintage creates a sense of relief following the Reger. Richard Strauss’ Burleske is also a demanding work, but it comes across as light, airy and slightly impish – as perhaps a “burleske” should.