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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Organ Works Volume 4
Symphonische Phantasie und Fuge, Op. 57 (1901) [20:35]
Sieben Orgelstücke, Op. 145 (1915-16) [51:42]
Aus Monologe, Op. 63 (nos. 5, 6, 7) (1902) [19:04]
Sechs Trios, Op. 47 (1900) [18:08]
Suite, Op. 92 (1905-6) [30:18]
Gerhard Weinberger (organ)
rec. 2015, Propsteikirche St. Stephanus Beckum (Op. 63, 47 & 92), 2016, Evangelische Stadtkirche Giengen (Op. 57 & 145)
Reviewed in CD stereo
CPO 777 7602 [2 SACDs: 140:02]

CPO have now reached Volume 4 of their ongoing Reger Organ Works cycle. The organist is Gerhard Weinberger whose impressive discography includes the complete organ works of J. S. Bach, again for CPO. On the Reger volumes, Weinberger performs on different historical organs from the composer’s, each time showcasing two instruments. Featured on this latest two-CD set are the Link Organ, Evangelische Stadtkirche Giengen (Op. 57 & 145) on CD 1, and the Johannes Klais Organ, Propsteikirche St. Stephanus Beckum (Op. 63, 47 & 92) heard on CD 2. One can only conjecture that these must have been amongst the very organs Reger either played or was familiar with, and that they inspired his compositions. He lived during a period 1880-1920 which saw significant developments in organ building in Germany.

Max Reger resuscitated the reputation of the organ, which had fallen into decline following the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was something that Mendelssohn and Liszt failed to achieve to any extent. He thus received the accolade of the greatest German composer for organ since his illustrious predecessor. I suppose one can say that he is best known today for his organ music.

The grand opening gestures of the Symphonische Phantasie und Fuge op. 57 (1901) make for a powerful call to arms. It was originally headed "organ sonata", but the composer later decided to append the title "symphonic" to reflect the grandeur and aspirations of the work. It was inspired by Dante's Inferno. It is certainly not all bombast, and it evinces some distinct dynamic contrasts. Luminous pianissimos provide breathtaking variation. The Geingen Link Organ is heard in all its resounding splendour. Constructed in 1906, it is one of the most significant instruments of the late romantic era. Its claim to fame is that it was the largest organ the Link company ever built.

Sieben Stücke für Orgel Op.145, the composer’s final statements for the instrument, were published in 1916, the year of his death. He dedicated the first piece Trauerode (Ode of mourning) to the memory of those who fell in the 1914/1915 war, a conflict he did not live to see out. It has a sombre, reflective disposition and an ethereal glow. At just over 13 minutes, it is the longest of the pieces. The final work of the set Siegesfeier could not be more different. It returns to the theme of war, this time with victorious celebration. The German national anthem puts in an appearance, securing a triumphant end. There was a prevalent belief at the time that the war would end in a German victory

There is a more gentle and soothing intimacy in the Sechs Trios für Orgel op. 47 of 1900. Canzonetta is enriched with a warm-hearted compassion, whilst the gentle lilting rhythm of Siciliano has a wide-eyed innocence. This same sense of warmth is found in the Ave Maria, one of the three pieces Weinberger has chosen from Monologue, Op. 63. The seven movement Suite in G minor, Op. 92 ends CD 2. I am very taken with the eloquent Romanza, which radiates a soothing calm. The final fuga unleashes the full potential of the organ of Propsteikirche St. Stephanus Beckum, whose marvellous acoustic facilitates clarity and definition of the polyphonic lines.

As with the other volumes in the series, the sound quality is excellent. Having said that, I only have volumes 1 and 2; the third seems to have passed me by. Even in CD stereo you get the feeling that you are sitting in the church, with the sound enveloping you. Equally impressive is the wide dynamic range, spatial perspective and clarity of detail which the engineers attained in both venues. Weinberger’s choice of registrations is imaginative, and the spectrum of colour he achieves is astonishing. His excellent accompanying annotations provide some welcome information on the instruments he has chosen.

Many find Reger’s organ “beasts” forbidding, overblown and challenging. It took me a while to fully appreciate their inherent riches. Once one is smitten, though, the rewards are immense.

Stephen Greenbank



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