Max REGER (1873-1916)
Complete Organ Works - Vol.2
Zwölf Stücke (Twelve pieces) op.59 [53:54]
Phantasie und Fuge (Fantasy and Fugue) [15:45]
Jean-Baptiste Dupont (organ)
rec. 2012, church of Saint-Martin of Dudelange, Dudelange, Luxemburg
HORTUS 097 [69:39]
Max Reger was one of those German composers active around the turn of the twentieth century who were forgotten, overshadowed by the ‘giants’ Mahler, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg and Hugo Wolf. Yet he was a prolific composer, not least for the organ for which, reputedly, he wrote more music than anyone had since Bach, whom he worshipped.
With over forty compositions to address, this project undertaken by Hortus will be long in the realisation though Rosalinde Haas recorded a 12 CD set of all Reger’s organ works, save the transcriptions, for MDG in 2000.
Reger seems as well known for his sayings and for his critics’ opinions as he is for his music. I can well imagine there being two distinct fraternities of Reger lovers and the rest of the Reger loving camp being one comprising few tents. It was the acrimonious battle with Rudolf Louis that gave rise to what has become known as the most original and crushing response to a critic following the first performance of his Sinfonietta in A major, Op. 90, on 2 February 1906. Louis wrote a typically unsympathetic review. The next day Reger wrote back “I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!”
I can see why he was overlooked when the likes of Mahler, Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg and Hugo Wolf were active since their music is much more exciting and groundbreaking. Reger, on the other hand, was a self-confessed traditionalist whose homage to Bach seemed to translate into his writing, for organ at least, being as close in style to his idol as was decently possible.
A former teacher wrote to Reger about his Fantasy and Fugue, op.29 saying “This work will give certain people headaches, but it’s good”. Reger replied that a critic who had said the work, though dedicated to Strauss, did not come across as modern, did not seem to understand that that was because of “my total negation of everything written for organ after Bach”.
All that said, I find the music curiously uninvolving. It tends to fade into the background without demanding my attention. The playing is excellent so that is not the issue and neither is the organ itself which sounds grand indeed. It is nice to read that it is in a church in Luxemburg and not one of the better known instruments. No, it is the music that for me does not compare favourably with the likes of Franck, Widor, Vierne, Dupré or Alain.
Another critic, Joseph Way, wrote that “Reger drank, ate, smoked and composed to excess”. This chimed with others who complained that he wrote too much music containing too many notes. Of his organ works he wrote “I was often accused that I deliberately write difficult (music); against this charge I have only one reply, that there is not one note in excess”. That may very well be so but while I’m sure his other observation that to play them requires “a sovereign technique and clever playing” is true, the works are dry and will be likely to appeal mostly to hardened Reger fans squatting in one of the few aforementioned tents.