New CDs of Reger and Tchaikovsky reviewed


REGER: Brandenburg State Orchestra Frankfurt / Levin (Naxos 8.574074) ★★★★

Max Reger's reputation is for academically sound but dull music. His Four Tone Poems after Arnold Böcklin, inspired by the Swiss artist's paintings, show him in a different light – romantic, colourful and lively. The Isle of the Dead is sombre and eerie but is interestingly different to Rachmaninov's famous version, while The Play of the Waves (featured on the booklet cover) and Bacchanal are vivid scherzos. The Hermit Fiddler is a serenely mystical piece and I found orchestra leader Klaudyna Schulze-Broniewska's approach, austere and withdrawn, a better fit than Jap van Sweden's fulsome vibrato-heavy style on Neeme Jarvi's Chandos (deleted) Concertgebouw recording. The orchestra, recorded in a lively acoustic, are very accomplished and conductor Ira Levin's orchestral arrangement of Reger's piano work Variations and Fugue on a Theme by J.S. Bach is a cracker – absolutely nothing dull here! Reger's own arrangement of a Bach chorale completes a desirable bargain disc.

TCHAIKOVSKY, THE NUTCRACKER: SASOR Orchestra / Jurowski (Pentatone SACD PTC 5186 761) ★★★

I must begin with a warning. Pentatone have crammed the complete ballet (86.25 minutes) on a single disc – a winning bargain at first sight. The disc's SACD layer has no problem with this and plays perfectly. But the absence of the CD logo on the cover is significant. Any disc over 80 minutes exceeds the legal criterion and cannot call itself a CD. Most machines will still play the standard CD layer – but some may not, so buyer beware! The State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia "Evgeny Svetlanov", under their music director Vladimir Jurowski are joined by the Sveshnikov Boys Choir of the Moscow Choral School for this recording of Tchaikovsky's festive favourite. This is a big-boned, energetic, rumbustious performance and, like Jurowski's Tchaikovsky symphony recordings, sometimes hard-driven. Exciting, characterful but a little crude beside the beautifully refined Berlin Philharmonic under Rattle (Warner Classics) who finds subtleties that evade the Russians.

Norman Stinchcombe

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