About this work
The very last of Max Reger's 146 opus-number work designations was assigned to the Quintet for clarinet and strings in A major of 1915. Reger continued working on a few pieces up to his death in May of the following year, but, excepting some short keyboard and organ works and an addendum to 1914's Op. 135, he would complete none of them, leaving the Clarinet Quintet to stand as his last statement. The Quintet helps us better appreciate the depth of Reger's contribution to the chamber literature -- to understand that he was not just the last in a long line of great German organ composers. His many violin sonatas contain a quarter century's worth of development as a composer -- really the whole span of his active career -- and the last two string quartets (Opp. 109 and 121 of 1909 and 1911, respectively) are rarely heard gems of the repertory. And crowning the whole body of Reger's chamber music output is the Clarinet Quintet; many feel it to be among his very finest achievements.
A love of German musical tradition and all the finesse and subtlety that it demands from a composer informs the best of Reger's music, and Op. 146 is no exception. Classicism meets rich, sophisticated late Romantic chromaticism in ways one who has never run across Reger might well imagine to be impossible.
The first movement (Moderato ed amabile) is spacious and lyrical, with a broad first theme and a tranquil, stop-and-go second one that winds in and around the expected key of the dominant. The scherzo (Vivace) movement which follows, as per tradition, is the shortest of the four; the conflict of rhythm -- "threes" in the strings and "twos" in the clarinet -- is probably the movement's most becoming feature. The following Largo is a reflective, even introspective, essay in three parts. The final movement (Poco allegretto) is a theme and variations -- one of Reger's hallmarks as a composer. Like his more famous examples, The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart for orchestra , Op. 132, and the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J. S. Bach for piano, Op. 81, this final movement illuminates Reger's particular talent in the genre.