shares the key of A flat major with the outer two songs of the Op 39 Drei sechsstimmige Chöre
, composed in 1899; the choice of E major for the central piece of that triptych thus makes for a surprising harmonic shift, though such unorthodoxy is not unusual for Reger. These unaccompanied works feature divided altos and basses: the concentration of harmonic interest in the lower voices produces a luxuriant, somewhat clotted effect heightened by the further subdivision of each bass part in the final song. The first song, to a text by Gustav Falke (1853–1916), invokes the attractions of ‘silence’, and Reger’s setting achieves a stillness appropriate to the subject. The striking harmony of the opening bars, in which a bass A flat pedal is maintained under chords in the upper voices that change successively from A flat to G flat major, to the unusual key of G flat minor, exemplifies Reger’s harmonic language in microcosm—no chord taken on its own is particularly noteworthy, but the effect of the rapid succession from one to another is disconcerting and idiosyncratic. The text of the central Abendlied
is by the very minor German poet August H Plinke (1855–1910): in contrast to the largely syllabic setting of the first song, words such as ‘Leise’ and ‘Stille’ feature lengthy melismas aptly reflecting the lassitude of the text. The words of the final song are by the ‘unhappy but marvellous’ (Schumann’s description) Nikolaus Lenau (1802–1850): with archetypal Romanticism, the life of this Hungarian-Austrian poet, dominated by doomed passion for a married woman and gradual descent into madness, merged with his writing. Frühlingsblick
had already been set by Mendelssohn and Siegfried Wagner, son of Richard; Reger’s setting conveys the sense that spring brings hope out of apparent torpor, with the words ‘All’ das frohe Lenzgeschick’ set to lively imitative entries contrasting with the predominantly slow tempos of the rest of the cycle.
from notes by Michael Downes © 2010