String Trio No.1 in a minor, Op.77b
Max Reger (1873-1916) was born in the small Bavarian town of Brand. He began his musical studies at a young age and his talent for composition became clear early on. His family expected him to become a school teacher like his father and to this end passed the necessary examinations for certification. However, before he landed his first teaching job, he met the eminent musicologist Hugo Riemann, who was so impressed by Reger’s talent that he urged him to devote himself entirely to music. Reger studied with him for nearly five years. By 1907 Reger was appointed to the prestigious position of Professor of composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. In addition to this he was widely regarded as one of the best living conductors and organists.
In a career that only lasted 20 years, Reger wrote a prodigious amount of music in virtually every genre except opera and the symphony. Chamber music figures prominently within his oeuvre. String Trio No.1 dates from 1904. The famous chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann had this to say about it in his chamber music handbook:
“This trio is among the best of its kind. I would like to strongly recommend it as a work which chamber music lovers ought to get to know. It is a pearl of the literature. Modern yet harmonically free of any affectation.
Rather high praise indeed, but we believe justified. This is without question a very interesting modern work. Reger is clearly moving tonality to its limits and then retreats back into the safe havens of romantic and classical melody. The opening movement begins with a brief, somewhat depressed and worried introduction reminiscent of late Beethoven. Then the tense main theme of the Allegro agitato literally explodes. Only briefly does the sun peek out of the clouds but then with the appearance of the lovely, lyrical second theme, all is sunny. The reflective second movement, Larghetto, is characterized by a deeply introspective quality. The brilliant third movement, Scherzo, vivace, is a humorous take off on the traditional German Dance. In the finale, Allegro con moto, Reger quotes a well-known theme from Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio and then dresses it up in modern clothes. The second theme, wayward tonally, provides an beautiful contrast. For good measure, a march is thrown in before the satisfying and jovial finale.
This is certainly one of the best trios in the literature, one which every trio group, professional and amateur alike will relish.