Max Reger was a formidable composer: smart, inspired, and versatile. Though he lived only forty-three years, he left an impressive body of music. You seldom hear it in concert halls these days.
Formally, he was Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian Reger. Probably better to go by “Max.” He was born in 1873, died in 1916. He was a church musician and professor in Leipzig. He had great esteem for another Leipzig musician, who lived approximately two centuries before him: Johann Sebastian Bach. There have been some Bach-besotted composers in history. One was Bruckner. Another was Hindemith. Reger was still another.
In the 1910s, Pablo Casals, the Spaniard, was making the Bach Cello Suites known. Max Reger took note. He wrote three cello suites—unaccompanied, like Bach’s—of his own. On a new recording from Warner Classics, Nina Kotova plays one of them.
She plays other music too: including Brahms’s Sonata No. 1 for cello and piano. The pianist is José Feghali, the late Brazilian. But I will concentrate on the Reger, for this suite is the rarity, which deserves to be less rare.
Nina Kotova is a Russian American, born in Moscow in 1969. She “studied at the Moscow Conservatory and the Musikhochschule in Cologne.” I have quoted the Wikipedia entry on her. From that same entry, one learns something exceptional: when she was in her early twenties, Kotova worked as a fashion model, with big-time designers.
Beat that, as Bill Buckley would say.
In her new recording, Kotova plays Reger’s Suite No. 2 in D minor. It has four movements (whereas the Bach suites have six). Those movements are a largo, a gavotte, another largo, and a gigue (jig). Gotta end a suite on a gigue, right? Each movement is worthy in its own right, and they fit together.
The gavotte is full of charm—a smile-making dance. The largo (the second one) is a beautiful song, essentially. Reger’s suite has a mixture of the grave and the warm.
Nina Kotova plays it—the whole suite—winningly. She makes a fine sound. She knows how to breathe. Her fingers are nimble. She is in tune with the soul of the music. Reger would be pleased, I bet, with such an exponent.
Why play this suite, or the two others, when you got Bach? Well, why not? There is not much music for solo cello. You have the Kodály sonata. And you must take advantage of Reger. Bach, of course, will always be the main event, or the bible.
Earlier this week, I ended a post on Moritz Moszkowski as follows:
Long ago, a conductor and I were talking about new music—the obligation that performers feel to program new music. “Well and good,” he said. “But I also believe that we should program music of the past—music that has been under a bushel and deserves to see the light of day.”