This disc is twenty years old and has been in my collection for several years, overlooked unfairly for a review. Max Reger wrote a huge amount of music in his short life of 43 years. The Four Tone Poems after A. Bocklin (1911) describes four paintings by the Swiss artist. The first (which is pictured on the booklet) is The hermit playing the violin, a meditative piece of power and tenderness. The chorale opening reminds us that Max Reger lover Bach's music. A solo violin represents the hermit of the painting and plays a beautiful lyrical melody that (for me) recalls Vaughn Williams' Lark Ascending. The next painting - At play in the wave - is of two Nereids joined by a group of Tritons looking for some rollicking fun. The music has the woodwinds taking the lead presenting a depiction of the waves and frolicking Nereids. The movement is like a Scherzo with the music dancing along. The third movement - The Isle of the Dead - is of interest as a comparison to the famous tone poem by Rachmaninov which was composed prior to Reger's. The painting, characterized by tall cypresses and forbidding rock formations, is a mournful work that portrays the bleakness of the landscape and the grief of the figure standing over a coffin. The music rises to a climax, a cry of despair, with gong strikes and settles back to a more serene melody that ends the movement. The suite ends with a Bacchanal which is less an orgiastic dance than a beer festival. The melodies whirl on in a playful way with outburst of brass. The music becomes more frenzied as it comes to a conclusion.
The Variations and Fugue of a Theme of Johann Adam Hiller consist of the theme, 11 variations and fugue. Hiller was a contemporary of Haydn and the variations are written in a Romantic style rather than a neo-classical elaboration. The variations are vibrant and imaginative with imaginative scoring. Variation 5 is a heartfelt andante and the final and number 15 is quite passionate leading into the longest of the variations a romantic andante and concludes radiantly. The fugue is a joyous celebration of the music of Bach building from a quite triple pianissimo to a grand forte. Bach may be Reger's influence but the fugue is entirely cast is a romantic mold.
These are superb performances by the Concertgebouw with Neeme Jari. Certainly, the disc is an affectionate tribute to a composer who deserves much more attention than he has received.