Duo d'Accord (Shao-Yin Huang from Taiwan and Sebastian Euler), prize-winners of the ARD Competition in 2000 and winners of the 1st prize at the internationally renowned piano duo competition “Muray Dranoff” in the USA, which they won “with absolute superiority” (Miami Herald), are here giving their CD debut with Max Reger.

An Interview with the Duo d'Accord

For your first CD, you have chosen works of Max Reger. As a young piano duo, what attracts you to this music?

Sebastian Euler: We are fascinated by the enormous wealth of different facets in this music – and of course, the pianistic as well as musical challenges it presents. Reger’s music contains surges of exceptionally virtuosic passagework next to tender, sometimes very intimate sections. Despite his late Romantic harmonies, Reger uses strict classical forms – but coupled with a great deal of humor. Everything, however, is subservient to a higher idea. This idea is hidden in many notes, and it is very important to make it transparent. The most difficult thing for interpreters is to get the right sound. It must be alive, with no traces of artificiality. One needs a great deal of time to master this.

Shao-Yin Huang: The biggest problem is finding one’s own individuality within Reger’s extremes of expression. We work intensively on finding the lines within the intricate structures. Similarly to J. S. Bach, the musician has to think horizontally and vertically at the same time. Otherwise, the fast passages just sound like they’re running away, or you have dense layers of sound on top of each other – and the listener can’t make sense of anything. I think that we are especially strong at [finding these lines], and when listeners sense this, they generally value Reger’s music more highly.

Reger has many sides. During his time, he was one antipode against the modern music of the time – which was considered by some to be in the process of disintegrating; others, however, considered him to be a representative of modern music. Does he have one foot in the past and one in the future as far as you are concerned?

H: For me, Reger is one of the last Romantic composers, especially in regard to how his music breathes. He never thought himself to be part of the avant-garde, although his harmonic ideas did contribute to the breakdown of certain forms – even though Reger didn’t necessarily intend this. It’s similar to Richard Strauss. But you can’t really put Reger in a certain corner. He is unique, with all his strengths and weaknesses.

E: When we were working on Reger’s music, we found it – in its innermost core – to be expressive music. Especially in the Sechs Stücken, there are passages which go very deep into the psyche, and these complicated feelings are sometimes resolved very suddenly and unexpectedly. One feels that Reger had discovered something very important in his search for meaning in music. But every person must feel this ‘something’ for him or herself and likewise try to define it individually. Maybe that is ultimately the essence of all Romantic music. And the interpreter’s job is to reveal the searching and finding in all its complexity.

H: Reger was insistent in distancing himself from the currents of his time. There’s the famous anecdote in which Strauss says to Reger, “Another step and you’re on our side,” whereupon Reger answers, “A step I will not take.” And that’s what I think is the difference – Reger maps the inner, not the outer.

Do you see a connection between the three works Reger composed between 1901 and 1906?

E: I don’t see a connection. There are basic traits, however, which always come up in Reger’s compositions, because above all, he was composing for himself as well as to meet his own absolute standards. He didn’t really care if people liked his pieces.

H: And all three of these works show Reger’s different masks. In the Burleske, it’s primarily the funny and sometimes biting mask; the Sechs Stücke are very serious – almost religious – and weighty in a positive sense. Reger’s romantic side comes to the fore in the Beethoven-Variationen, especially in the slow variations. I think that seen together, these three cycles give a very good picture of Reger’s essence.

How does Reger express the bizarre in his very lively Burleskes?

H: For us, the Burleskes – in addition to Schubert’s A Major Rondo – were our first four-hands project; our trial by fire, you might say, because pianistically, they are a real milestone. The really hard thing with these pieces is not losing their exaggerated humor when playing them – if you do, they sound extremely aggressive and hard. Each of the Burleskes has several elements which almost always interrupt each other. These elements themselves are often incomplete or disconnected as well – which is what contributes to the bizarre effect. After one of our concerts, a reviewer wrote about the “Freudian humor” in these pieces, which hits the nail on the head. And you have to get the right dosage of all the elements to unite all of these contrasts.

E: There is also a development within the Burleskes, and each shows another side of Reger’s humor. The first three are very stubborn and play around with musical means, for example, the third is a very strange waltz. The fourth goes to extremes. It tips over into the grotesque and ends up quite disturbed. Then comes the breathless fifth Burleske, where the music finally calms down at the end. In the last Burleske, Reger plays with the theme “O du lieber Augustin” and makes a real show out of it. And suddenly, the whole piece is over.

Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, op. 86 use musical material from Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B-flat Major, op. 119, no. 11. When you play the Reger, how much of the Beethoven do you still have in mind?

H: After the theme, the Beethoven disappears fast. You see that, for example, in Reger’s immediate modulation from B-flat major into keys with sharps. Especially in the fast variations, Reger uses maybe only one or two motives from the Bagatelle as a basis. On the other hand, in the slow movements, the atmosphere of Beethoven’s long, legato phrasing is always in the foreground. Reger develops this into wonderful ‘sound-paintings’ which are highly imaginative as well.

E: The sequence of keys in the Variations also shows how far away Reger was from Beethoven. Almost every variation is in a different key; he only gets back to B-flat in the last ones. And with his incredible chorale fugue at the end, he really pulls all the stops and one sees his immense mastery of counterpoint.

You’ve emphasized the serious character of the Sechs Stücke, op. 94, which hardly anyone knows…

H: The opus 94 pieces are not especially long, but much calmer than the Burleskes, although they are often subdivided into different sections – this time, however, with more logical transitions. It isn’t easy to keep up the line and the right kind of tension at this relatively slow pace through all six pieces without manipulating the tempos. The true genius of this work only unfolds when you are very strict with the pulse.

E: This work is very enigmatic. For us, it is a sonata- like construct in six movements that can really be compared to Beethoven’s late string quartets, which burst conventional forms in their day. There are also similarities between Beethoven’s harmonic complexity and introversion and Reger’s piece. Opus 94 certainly stood in the shadows of the other piano works surrounding it, which are often much more appealing to audiences. Also, piano four-hands music was acceptable for salons, but not for concerts. Reger himself played these pieces two or three times in public, and then only numbers 1, 3 and 4.

Will you continue working on Reger, or does this CD mark the end of a period for you?

H: This recording is certainly an important milestone in our career. But we are very curious people, and there is a world of wonderful music for us to discover.

Dr. Meret Forster of the Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk interviewed the two pianists.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler