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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA66996
Recording details: April 1998
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: January 1999
Total duration: 31 minutes 20 seconds

'Others have courageously fought the cause of this complex and neglected repertoire but few, if any, have brought to it such compelling fusion of temperament, intellect, and prodigious pianistic fluency' (Gramophone)

'This is a marvellous disc' (BBC Music Magazine)

'I have never heard Reger played with greater imagination or persuasive eloquence. Hamelin seems to command an almost limitless range of keyboard colour. Those who have yet to be won over by Reger's keyboard music should start here' (Classic FM Magazine)

'I was enthralled' (Classic CD)

'An embarrassment of riches. This is absolutely first-rate playing. Quite simply this is a stunning recital' (The Scotsman)

'This is playing such as you seldom hear. First-rate Hyperion recording; boring superlatives, as usual, for this least boring of contemporary keyboard giants' (Hi-Fi News)

Variations and Fugue on a theme of Johann Sebastian Bach, Op 81
composer
1904

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Reger’s dedication to Bach bore especially rich creative fruit, not only in the noble ‘Bach’ Variations recorded here, but in a number of ingenious keyboard transcriptions, not least the complete orchestral Suites and Brandenburg Concertos (arranged for piano four hands), and the two-part Inventions, various Preludes and Fugues from The Well-tempered Clavier and sundry Fantasias and Toccatas (refashioned for organ solo). The Variations and Fugue on a theme of Johann Sebastian Bach dates from the summer of 1904, a period that also saw the births of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Delius’s Koanga, and Charles Ives’s March 1776. The times were certainly a-changing, and although perennial in their eloquence and vitality and the uncommon richness of their modulations, the Variations are nonetheless rooted in the musical past, much as Bach’s own music had been.

The prompting theme is taken from the beautiful contralto/tenor duet ‘Seine Allmacht zu ergründen, wird sich kein Mensche finden’ (‘No man can fathom His omnipotence’) which is, in turn, from Bach’s Cantata No 128, Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein. Reger asks for the melody to be played ‘sweetly and always very legato—that is to say, like an oboe solo’ (Bach’s original is scored for oboe d’amore and continuo) and, while treating it to appreciative pianistic colours, opts thereafter to home in on particular elements of the theme rather than to vary it ‘whole’. The first two variations extend the mood among some gentle elaborations while the third, with its coruscating climaxes and undulating accompanying figures, breaks the mould with typical chromatic boldness. Reger canters off apace with his fourth and fifth variations, makes wrist-straining demands on his pianist in the sixth (a lusty Allegro molto), and then slams on the brakes for an introspective Adagio, hinting at the C major tonality that will dominate the energetic eighth variation. The deeply expressive writing that follows recalls a parallel passage roughly halfway through Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations (Variation No 14) where, as here, the mood suddenly darkens to questioning introspection—though not for long.

But Reger, like Beethoven, was wont to break his own spells. After a lively Poco vivace and an agitated Allegro in C sharp minor, he sustains what initially sounds like a noble Sarabande, before whisking us back to the home key with two quick final variations. But this is by no means the end of the matter. There is the Fugue, a colossal, three-tier edifice, the first two episodes being four-part fugues (Bach’s original melody reappears in the treble towards the end of the second), the last section combining them both for a towering grand finale.

from notes by Robert Cowan © 1999

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