Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer

Max Reger: Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 107 & 49

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Max Reger's three sonatas for clarinet and piano, the first pair composed in 1900 and the last in 1909, in many ways form a bookend for the tradition of the Germanic sonata for wind instrument and piano, and it is a little puzzling why they have not been recorded more often. Dutch clarinetist Lars Wouters van den Oudenweijer makes a powerful case for them here, conceding in the interview-format booklet notes that one reason for their neglect is the composer's total lack of sympathy for the difficulties in which he places the clarinetist. Reger's characteristically endless melodic lines are often on display here, with no obvious place for a breath, but this recording really makes virtues of the difficulties. The first two sonatas were written under the inspiration of Brahms' two Op. 120 clarinet sonatas of 1894, but it is the later work, the Clarinet Sonata No. 3 in B flat major, Op. 107, that actually resembles Brahms more with its mixture of lyrical spirit and motivic snarls. The earlier sonatas have more of the chromaticism that can sometimes become tedious in Reger, but there is a humorous element present as well, and it's attractively rendered enough here to make you want to go and search for it in Reger's other music. He revels (hear the opening of the finale of the Clarinet Sonata in F sharp minor, Op. 49/1, for an example) in the sudden deconstruction of a simple, even naïve theme, immediately plunging it into severe harmonic twists and turns that, as Wouters points out, take the clarinet into keys where it is very much not at home. The engineering, as usual with the Challenge Classics label, is very well done here, taking the listener into the instrument's struggles and strains without becoming over-intimate. Reger may still not be every listener's cup of tea (in his case, glass of beer would be a more appropriate locution), but these sonatas deserve a place on recital programs of players with the chops to master them.

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