Tragic Overture, Op.81
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. A. Hiller, Op.100
Grosse Fuge, Op.133
London Symphony Orchestra
Carl Schuricht [Brahms & Reger]
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sir Adrian Boult [Beethoven]
Brahms and Reger recorded on 31 January 1964 in Hornsey Town Hall, London; Beethoven recorded on 19 August 1968 in the Royal Albert Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 74 minutes
Having Schuricht conduct one of Reger’s major works is of considerable importance. Quite why Reger (1873-1916) is so dismissed in some quarters is a mystery. He was a remarkable musician – as composer, pianist, organist and teacher – and packed a great deal into his short life. He was a prolific composer, as the opus number assigned to the Hiller Variations testifies to. Fecund imagination and contrapuntal mastery informs Reger’s commentaries on Hiller’s jaunty tune. Reger unleashes much that is virile, beautiful, witty, brilliantly inventive and superbly composed; the culmination is an extensive Fugue to complete a 40-minute masterpiece that is here given a thoroughly convincing performance by a well-drilled LSO playing with confidence, commitment and incision under a conductor who really knew his way through it. The recorded sound complements Reger’s complex but never forbidding invention.
Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) also studied with Reger and was a devotee of Nikisch. While Boult is, thankfully, no stranger to BBC Legends, it’s good to find him presiding over another fugue, Beethoven’s monumental and “contemporary” (Stravinsky) Grosse Fuge, the original finale of the B flat String Quartet, Opus 130, which of course is often now restored to honour the composer’s intentions. It’s quite a shock to be thrust into the cavernous ambience of the Royal Albert Hall (before the acoustic ‘mushrooms’ were installed!), the orchestra distant but still lucid. The important bass line has foundation and Boult conducts with authority, ensuring clarity of entry, weight of tone and integrity through the work’s sections. In music designed for four players the use of full strings does detract from the ‘struggle’ that a quartet would undergo to sustain the work; that said, conductors such as Furtwängler and Klemperer left us hefty and intense accounts, and Boult’s conducting is equally impressive, fully revealing the music’s ‘madness’ as well as its astonishing construction.
This is a very welcome addition to Boult’s discography and the pairing of him and Schuricht in this repertoire adds up to a most desirable release enhanced by excellent stereo sound faithfully restored for compact disc.