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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Complete Organ Works Vol.7:
Sonata in E flat major, No.13, Op.161: Phantasie; Maestoso, Adagio-Canzone; Allegretto-Intermezzo; Largo-Fuge; Allabreve
Charakterstücke für Orgel, op.156: Präludium; Con moto-Romanze; Andante-Canzonetta; Andantino-Intermezzo; Allegretto-Vision; Adagio molto-Duett; Andantino amabile-In memoriam; Con moto-Pastorale; Andantino-Klage; Lrgo-Abdefriede; Lento-Passacaglia; Lento maestoso-Trauermarsch; Alla marcia;
Rudolf Innig, Organist
Organ by: Kuhn, 1879, St Johann at Schaffhausen, Germany
Recorded:8-9/05/2002, Schaffhausen
MDG 317 0897-2

Bülow once said of Rheinberger that he is ‘a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject’. This is a fair account for Rheinberger, whose famous students were Kroyer, Thuille and Furtwängler among many others.

His work derives from the late baroque era as well as the early romantic period. As the New Grove Dictionary says ‘the strength of his works, lies in the indisputable mastery and the planned coherence of his compositional style, which is imbued with the spirit of polyphonic thinking rather than compelling inventiveness or vivid conception’. He was a conservative who did not follow the current musical developments of his time. However his work retains a certain freshness all its own.

The twenty organ sonatas are among his most outstanding works. They are full of musical and structural ideas. The Sonata No.13, op.161, was composed in 1889, whereas the Twelve Character Pieces for organ op.156 were composed one year earlier. In the booklet it is written that these pieces were ‘not strongly marked by styling typical of the organ’. Even though such was the case, the critics of the time referred to it as ‘a valuable present for organists; acquaintance with it brings us true joy. The content of the work offers more than … the title indicates, … not only [characterful] music but also music that is full of substance, well-felt, and finely crafted, music that has issued forth from heart and mind instead of being written by the study lamp’.

The Kuhn organ chosen for this recording is appropriate for this music. Its case is quite imaginative, its reeds sound powerful, the flute tones are warm and the pedal department has some nice string stops combined with powerful 32’, 16’ and 8’ principals. It is an organ that, as Innig mentions in the booklet, ‘reflects the influence of the French symphonic school of organ building’.

Unfortunately Innig’s chosen registrations do not work consistently - sometimes strangely at odds with the organ and the music. The musical effects produced by the frequent use of mixtures and stops with high pitches do not have the appropriate warm colour for the music. Most of the time the pedal line sounds unclear due to the fact that Innig uses the manual couplers. The manuals’ lines sound metallic, without any depth and feeling of fullness. Variety of sound is missing as is any hint of willingness to explore the organ. Thus the listener does not gain a very clear idea of how the organ sounds. Even if this is the case, the engineers could still work at this aspect and correct the bass and treble balance in order to gain a more pleasing result. An example is heard at No. 6 - Romanze, where the left hand is vaguely heard in the background. Nevertheless, Innig has a very good sense of expressiveness and his use of rubato is well handled. He gives the appropriate space to the acoustics and in general his performances, not taking into account his registrations, are very well performed.

The booklet is attractively presented, in three languages, giving all the necessary information about the composer, the music and the organ specification. The chosen organ registrations that are written in the booklet seem to be incomplete sometimes or not edited correctly (i.e. No.2 - Canzone).

Christina Antoniadou

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