New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon
Saturday, 20 August 2016
Max Reger for Guitar Laura Young
Fugues for Solo Violin, op. 117/3; op. 131a/3. Sonata for Solo Violin, op.
42/1. Suites for Solo Cello, op. 131a/3; op. 131c/1
Reger for guitar? The idea seems perverse at best,
until you look closer at the program. It turns out that all of the works here
are for solo violin or cello, and all are from the neo-Baroque end of Reger’s
stylistic spectrum. The results fit comfortably in the tradition of Bach cello
suites arranged for guitar, and while the music is a bit more adventurous harmonically,
guitarist Lara Young does a good job of convincing us that the music fits
naturally under her fingers.
Which isn’t to say it is easy. She her liner note, Young
writes of the violin music “This is extraordinarily difficult technically
because of the music’s densityand
content, which demand great commitment, energy and emotional expression from
the performer.” That certainly characterizes her approach, and, unlike most
violinists and cellists approaching this repertoire, Young makes no attempt to
play this in a Baroque style. The guitar tone is full and round (as is the
acoustic), phrases are broadly and liberally shaped, and a hint of vibrato is evident
on the longer notes. As with Bach on the modern guitar, a case could be made
for treating this as lute music, but that is not Young’s goal.
Reger’s melodic lines are often longer and more
chromatic than Bach’s, but Young has the nimble fingers and interpretive focus
to bring them off. The preludes of the two violin preludes and fugues, opp.
117/3 and 131a/3, both benefit from her lightness of touch. Conversely, the
fugues that follow in both works maintain their contrapuntal integrity thanks
to her flowing legato lines. The other violin work, the First of the op. 42
Solo Sonatas, is more complex and not as strictly neo-Baroque. Here, Young must
distinguish main melodic lines from accompaniments and subsidiary themes, which
she does with excellent clarity. In all these works, the guitar’s ability to
resonate longer than the violin benefits the voice-leading, although this must
also be a result of Young’s careful control. It makes for a completely
different character to this music though, much more modern, and occasionally jarringly
Spanish, at least to my ear.
The cello works that conclude the program, the First
and Third Solo Suites from op. 131, pose different challenges. Reger often
indulges in broad quadruple-stopped chords, and while these are more easily
performed (presumably) on the cello, the effect is very different—real rather
than suggested harmonies. On the other hand, Reger’s use of the gutsy tone of
the cello’s lower strings transfers well to the guitar, and Young digs into
bass lines, particularly in the finale of the First Suite, and the result has
plenty of impact. She also achieves an impressive density of tone in the
mid-register, for instance in the Third Variation of the Third Suite’s finale,
and without compromising clarity of line.
Technically, then, this recording is an impressive
achievement. But as a listening experience, the whole enterprise is very
distant from the original works. That is, of course, partly a result of the
instrument substitution, but equally of Young’s interpretive approach, treating
this as purely 20th-century music and playing down its debt to Bach. That can
feel exploitative, but the performances all work on their own terms. More
valuable as an addition to the guitar catalog, in other words, than as a new
perspective on Reger.
This review appears in Fanfare magazine issue 40:2