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There is no mistaking the ambition of this gargantuan six-DVD set exploring the music of Max Reger. And no denying the many attractions of a project encompassing 12 hours of specially filmed performances together with nearly three and a half hours of documentaries by the organist-producer, Will Fraser. Less a labour of love and more a decla- ration of devotion, the project was made possible by a successful £90,000 crowdfunding appeal.

Committed Regerians will need no recommendation other than the scale of the enterprise and the roll-call of the artists involved – including organists Graham Barber, Bernhard Haas, Bernhard Buttmann (fresh from his complete organ survey on Oehms Classics), and Wayne Marshall conducting the WDR Funkhausorchester – to purchase it, even at its £85 price-tag.

But a note of caution to begin with: the title, Maximum Reger, should not be mistaken for meaning ‘complete’. Only a third of his 146 works with opus numbers are featured, and the choral music is conspicuous by its absence. Instead, it focuses on key pieces for organ, orchestra, voice, violin, piano and chamber ensemble.

The three-part documentary, The Last Giant (an epithet awarded to Reger by Paul Hindemith), offers a revealing portrait, with much new material, of the composer’s life and career, charting his dalliances with modernism and neo-classicism – dictated by creative ambition and financial necessity – and the development of the stringent focus of what he called his later ‘free Jena style’. The scholars Susanne Popp and Jürgen Schaarwächter both make valuable contributions, as do conductor Ira Levin and organist Bernhard Haas in discussions that are marked by intelligent insight and engaging seriousness. Haas and Bernhard Buttmann are also highly persuasive advocates in performance (Graham Barber disappointingly less so), Fraser’s camera-work switching focus between hands and pedal work with nimble precision.

Better titling than just opus numbers on the discs would have been useful, but the recorded sound is as excellent as the crafted, skilfully edited filming. The booklet might have made better use of its 88 pages to include English translations of the German titling and fewer full-page photographs of the artists involved to allow for contextual information to complement the information about the repertoire and featured organs – a brace of Sauers and one each by Walcker, Link/Gaida and Weibs. Even so, there is much here of interest and to revisit, although one imagines another similarly scaled project might be needed to do the prolific and protean Reger full justice.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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