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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750),
Toccata and Fugue BWV 565 [9:06]
Choral Prelude BWV 654 [7:27]
Fantasia BWV 572 [8:66] Max REGER (1837-1916)
Fantasia Op.40/1 [18:22]
Three choral preludes from op.67
Christus, der ist mein Leben [2:17]
Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen! [1:47]
Benedictus from Twelve Pieces for Organ, op.59 [4:56]
Fantasy and Fugue on the name B-A-C-H, op.46 [19:26]
Erik Boström (organ)
rec. Marcussen organ at Oscar Church, Stockholm, June and August 2013 STERLING CDA1687-2 [75:31]
The Sterling label is best known for the composers that one has never heard of before and of who often sound so absolutely gorgeous. This is a treasure trove for all the lovers of obscure romantic orchestral music. At first it explored romantic treasures from Sweden (an endeavour supported by the Cultural Council in Stockholm) but since then it has branched out to other countries, making a point of recording many world premiere performances of - by default - neglected works with and without Swedish participation. There’s also another side to the label, offering Swedish artists a platform - something that might be less important to the general listening and collecting public outside Scandinavia. This disc of organ works by Bach and Reger falls in that latter category. Only my desire to hear anything by Bach made me contemplate a review. I glad I did.
It starts well enough with a radiant, bright Toccata and fugue in D minor BWV 565. The 1949 78-stop Marcussen & Søn organ of Stockholm’s Oscar Church sounds terrific in this, and the recording showcases the instrument as much as its performer. The extensive liner notes include the disposition if not registration of each piece. The Choral Prelude “Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele” broods marvelously and is followed by a regal, celebratory Pièce d’Orgue in G Major BWV 572. Facility, steadiness of rhythm, and effective registrations are all in ample supply from organist Erik Boström who has been the Oscar Church’s organist since 1984 and therefore knows the instrument inside out.
What starts out as a very satisfying Bach recital takes a subtle turn to Max Reger. Very subtle, indeed, because that part of the recital is comprised of an extraordinarily ‘Bach-friendly’ selection of Reger pieces. If you were lazily listening to it as background, which the engulfing but easygoing sound of the Marcussen organ encourages, you might miss the transition, what with the Fantasia on the chorale “Wie schön leucht’ uns der Morgenstern” taking the old models as its point of departure. Some way through the Three Choral Preludes it should become more obvious, as Reger meanders his way towards harmonies that are decidedly late 19th century. If I hadn’t already discovered Reger’s organ music as something actually pleasant to listen to, thanks to Bernhard Buttmann’s traversal on Oehms Classics, this might have done the trick.
Now the only thing that needs to be decided on is the matter of filing: under B-for-Bach, because it is such a beautiful Bach organ recital and because the disc begins with JSB? And perhaps also because it is by way of Bach that it makes me so enjoy Reger? Or under the majority-composer (by minute-count) Reger, in the hope that it draws me more often to the Reger section of my shelves? Several organizing principles are at odds here. ‘Majority composer’ is the firmest, but ‘first named composer’ can equally rear its head. And then there’s ‘composer that I would think of, looking for that CD’... and the composer for whom the disc is more important. (Like the umpteenth Third Beethoven Piano Concerto or Victor Ullmann’s Piano Concerto? Obviously the latter.) It will be Reger, I suppose, despite the fact that the disc doesn’t make me consciously think of Reger. I will remember it, in any case, because despite it being something of an oddity in the Sterling catalogue (at least not repertoire I’d have ever looked for on that label), this is not merely a pleasant surprise but indeed a very happy discovery.