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Complete Organ Works volume 3.
Sonata no. 5 in F sharp major.
Sonata no. 6 in E flat minor. 12 Fughettas.

Rudolf Innig.
MDG Gold MDG 317 0893-2 (DDD) (63.49)

How I remember cursing under my breath when trying to play these difficult sonatas on our local and magnificent Father Willis organ. I used to pray that the verger would put his vacuum cleaner on to cover up the wrong notes. I was only 14 at the time but all these years on these sonatas are still very demanding particularly these two which are in remote keys, so-called. Very difficult to read at times let alone play.

I fell in love with the Second Sonata in A flat when I was a teenager perhaps because the main theme of the opening movement was very similar to the hymn tune St Anne set to that much maligned hymn O God our help in ages past. I was very keen on a girl called Anne at that time who tried to convert me to the rich orchestral scores of Tschaikovsky. She failed.... fortunately. Bach wrote a Prelude and Fugue called St Anne and I could not play that very well either.

Rheinberger's twenty organ sonatas were quite popular all those year ago and Novello published them in an edition by Harvey Grace. His pedalling instructions used to drive me wild.. They were impossible

The F sharp sonata dates from May 1878. Its grand opening is very reminiscent of a church processional and the 32 foot pedal stop is truly marvellous. The main section is a striking fugue but so very well written is it that this academic device is lost in the compositional skills. The slow movement is in two parts including a superb wistful theme and then an allegro section before the original tempo reappears. While the material may not be outstanding the logic and coherence of the work is evident. The movement makes sense; it is never episodic and flabby. But that can be said of most, if not all, of Rheinberger's music. The finale is an allegro maestoso with two main subjects. Again the sound of this wonderful instrument cannot distract from a church setting and in the perceived sense of a feeling of leaving a service with euphoric peace with God is evident. The conclusion is rather hymnic and this adds to the feelings I have about his piece.

As I have said in another review many people will not warm to this music because of its religiosity. That would be unfair. The music is very strong, rugged and tough but in the sense of its majesty not in unacceptability.

The B flat minor sonata dates from 1880 and, in my view, is an even greater sonata. Its thematic material is more memorable. It is in four titled movements... Prelude, Intermezzo, Marcia religiosa and the obligatory Fugue. The prelude is very fine. I have often thought of orchestrating it, not that I am a good orchestrator, but that it would make an impressive opening to any concert. And there is a surprise in that there is a fugato in the prelude. The music's intensity may be a little too much for some. And discerning listeners will recognise that same intensity in the early works of that great master, Arnold Schoenberg. The movement ends with an unfortunate recording stutter on my copy. The intermezzo is intended to be light relief and is in B major and simple ternary form. I do feel that Inning makes it slightly heavy at times. In fact, I wish he would allow more contrast of tone and registration throughout his performances. Marcia Religiosa is a hybrid and rather daft title for any piece of music but this one is very enjoyable and, occasionally impressive. Again , a variety of tone and registration would have helped. The finale is a four part fugue, if I recall correctly, with a reference to the opening movement. This time the academic device is not hidden and therefore the fugue does sound mechanical.

The recital ends with the 12 Fughettas which have their origin in the Sonata no. 8. They are very short and perhaps slightly trivial. Fugues at best are mathematical. I did feel that this disc was primarily designed to show the power of the organ and not the quality of the music. That it is mostly played at a high volume and little registration changes gives the music no respite and does deter from the music. It is rather like listening to a stunning performance of a Violin Concerto and not commenting on the performance or on the performer but the Stradivarius instrument that was used.

Inning is a good player. But I wonder if the engineers have wanted to steal the limelight.

For lovers of fine organs and those interested in Rheinberger's prestigious talent this may well be worth investigating.

 David Wright



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