Let’s hear it for Max Reger. I often say that. He may have had a relatively short life (1873-1916) but it was used to the full: Reger was a prolific composer and very busy as an organist and pianist; a man of many talents.
If in some quarters Reger’s music is under-appreciated, or never made the starting gates, there can be no doubting this composer’s innate skill at wholesome thought and vivid communication. The first two of his Clarinet Sonatas, all three are four-movement affairs, are paired as Opus 49 and date from 1900 (the same year as the attractively-coloured photo of Munich that adorns the cover so enticingly). Although Reger is very much his own man, if steeped in the history of his German forebears, there is no mistaking many a Brahmsian trait, especially suggestive of that composer’s own (two) Clarinet Sonatas, but Reger’s have a flavour of their own, not least the delightful waltz that is the second movement of the A-flat work or its rapid Finale. The companion piece, also twenty minutes, is no less inviting if that bit more bittersweet yet remaining changeable in mood; Reger certainly keeps the listener on his toes, gratifyingly so, whether the witty scamper of the second movement or the heart-touching slow one.
The bigger B-flat Sonata (1909, there’s also a viola version) – by now Reger has reached Opus 107 – and in which any Brahmsian shackles he might have felt previously have been loosened; however, this remains music of German Romanticism, but more private, autumnal in its reflection, and may also be heard as pointing the way, somewhat, to Hindemith, and he was a huge admirer of Reger. The first movement contains music of great beauty and also robust passion; the second sets fast music against slow, ending thus and anticipating the sublime Adagio; while the Finale begins capriciously yet it will wind-down to an affecting and inevitable stillness.
Michaels Collins and McHale are an established partnership and – through perception, virtuosity and teamwork – open up the many attractions of Reger’s Clarinet Sonatas with considerable persuasion and are very well recorded.