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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Organ Works Vol. 4

Chorale Fantasia on "Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern", Op 40, No. 1 (1899) [18:08]
Organ Pieces, Op. 59, Nos. 7-9 (1901) [14:02]
Introduction and Passacaglia in F minor, Op. 63 (1902) [14:16]
Organ Pieces, Op. 59, Nos. 10-12 (1901) [14:32]
Chorale Fantasia on "Halleluja! Gott zu loben ‘bleibe meine Seelenfreud’!", Op 52, No. 3 (1900) [15:35]
Josef Still (organ)
Recorded in Trier Cathedral, Germany, on 21st and 22nd October, 2001. DDD
NAXOS 8.555905 [76:33]

 

It is often difficult to contextualize the works of certain composers wholly in terms of their own time and location. Each man is inevitably compared to his forebears, whether for good or ill, and categorized through perceived commonality, regardless of the validity of such claims. For instance, Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms are almost always linked not merely due to their greatness, but also because of their common motherland and the alphabetic proximity of their surnames. Thus Max Reger cannot avoid being compared to J.S. Bach due to the shared German heritage, large bodies of religious work based on Lutheran melodies, and their definitive work for the organ. However, in truth it would be hard to name a greater German composer of organ music post-Bach than Reger. This latest release by Naxos goes far in making just such a case.

Reger’s organ music tends to be highly dramatic and expressive, taking full advantage of the bright bombast and deep thunder so common in traditional organ music, while alternately exploring the under-utilized intimacy that a well made organ can produce. As he was a Catholic by faith, he wrote much for the mass, including many of the tracks on this CD. He also borrowed liberally from the melodies of his Lutheran brethren, as displayed in the opening and closing tracks also contained here.

The selections are well chosen, and are from the heart of Reger’s musical career. Written between 1899 and 1902, and characteristically emotive to the point of emotional exhaustion, they are perfectly indicative of what makes Reger so great. These pieces are both incredibly texturally dense while still completely tonal and approachable. From a compositional standpoint, they are virtuosic explorations of the symphonic colors of the organ and testaments to his belief in absolute music, contrasting the program music of his contemporaries Wagner and Liszt. He tells no stories, paints no literal pictures, but pulls emotions directly out of his listeners, assuming that the musician is capable of playing the works as Reger intended.

Josef Still, the organist bringing Reger’s music to life, does an outstanding job of interpreting these virtuosic works without apparent difficulty. Indeed, the music seems to channel itself through him, flowing out with grace and subtlety when appropriate, and with intensity and exuberance when allowed. The instrument itself is a magnificent four-manual Klais organ installed in 1974 and housed in the oldest church north of the Alps, with portions dating to the 4th century AD. The recording does much to showcase the versatility of this instrument and the virtuosity of Mr. Still.

If you are not familiar with the organ works of Max Reger, this recording would make an excellent introduction. They are not overly-intellectual or difficult to approach; they are made to sound easy even when they are at their most challenging. Indeed, Reger’s brilliance is beautifully showcased throughout each selection in a setting that is incredibly appropriate to the music, both in terms of geography and the characteristic timbre he would have desired. I heartily recommend this recording to any collector.

Patrick Gary

 

 



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