Max Reger: Cello Sonata No.1


German composer Max Reger composed his First Cello Sonata in 1892 whilst in Wiesbaden. The piece was dedicated to cellist Oskar Brückner who also premiered the work a year later in 1893 in Wiesbaden, with the composer at the piano. The sonata has been likened to the stylings of Johannes Brahms, with Reger’s powerful Romanticism shining through, especially in the long opening movement. 


The Music

Set into three movements, Reger highlights different capabilities of the cello through various techniques, textures and harmony. 


Movement I – Allegro maestoso ma appasionato

The bold opening movement has been described as “surging passionately and heroically”. The powerful movement of the cello against the rolling piano part is a core figure in this movement and returns a number of times. Reger explores a wide range of the cello, from the deep and dark lower register, to the constrained upper register. The fast-paced tempo keeps the rolling feeling throughout the movement, with the rhapsodic piano part adding a new dimension to the piece. After an extended exploration of the themes, the first movement concludes quietly and with poise.


Movement II – Adagio

The recitative-like opening to the slow second movement is initially set in Db major. The drama of the opening comes from operatic inspiration as the cello soars above the sparse piano accompaniment. The two instruments swell together as Reger experiments with dynamics and texture between the duo. As with the opening movement, this movement is also high intensity and dramatic in places, with loud dynamics jumping out from nowhere. The use of the cello’s upper register in the central section shows the versatility of the instrument and also plays into the intensity of the music. After an extended development section, the slower second movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Finale

Full of energy and playfulness, the fiery finale starts slightly subdued before bursting into action. The dialogue between the two instruments is intricate in this movement, with lots of new material entering the mix. As well as the new melodies, Reger also looks back at some of the previous melodies heard in the sonata. Just before the coda section of the finale, Reger takes a musical pause to look back at themes passed. The opening playful theme is heard again in the coda before the sonata concludes triumphantly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

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