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Joseph Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Sonata No. 12 in D flat major, Op. 154, (1888)
Seven of the twelve Trios for Organ, Op. 189, Nos. 6-12 (1897)
Sonata No. 13 in E flat major, Op. 161, (1889)
Wolfgang Rubsam (organ)
Rec. Rieger-Sauer Organ (The Great Organ) of Fulda Cathedral, Germany 8-10 January, 2002.
Organ Works Volume 5
NAXOS 8.557184 [69:29]

Joseph Rheinberger was born in the Principality of Liechtenstein in 1839, the son of the Treasurer to the Prince. Rheinberger had his first organ lessons at the age of five and two years later served as organist at Vaduz, at which time he also made his first attempts at composition. Rheinberger had a most successful and productive career which spanned more than 45 years, composing almost 200 published works. Early in his career during his three years of formal study at the Munich Conservatory, Rheinberger showed remarkable ability both as a virtuoso pianist and organist and as a master of counterpoint and fugue.

Classed by many as the finest in Germany, Rheinberger became a most sought-after teacher of composition as well as the organ and established himself as an eminent academic. When the present Conservatory was founded in Munich, Rheinberger was appointed to Professorships of Organ and then Composition, posts he held from 1867 until death in 1901. Enjoying the loftiest reputation as a teacher, Rheinberger’s pupils included the distinguished names: Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwängler. The Munich Conservatory also bestowed upon Rheinberger the distinguished title of "Royal Professor".

He composed in most genres, however it is rare to hear much of his output other than his compositions for the organ. In fact his twenty organ sonatas are remarkable and considered by the author of his entry in Grove's Music Dictionary to be "undoubtedly the most valuable addition to organ music since the time of Mendelssohn. They are characterized by a happy blending of the modern romantic spirit with masterly counterpoint and dignified organ style".

Although large and bold works the Sonata No. 12 in D flat major from 1888 and the Sonata No. 13 in E flat major from 1890 are good examples of how Rheinberger avoids the tendency of his contemporaries Franck, Widor, Vierne et al to create often dense, even opaque textures. Rheinberger is known for writing with clean lines and neat textures which can be heard to excellent effect in numbers six to twelve of the Twelve Trios that form opus 189 from 1897. Here we hear how he intimately writes his finely crafted works with finely balanced harmonic development and an innate sense of melody so subtly employed.

Wolfgang Rubsam has impeccable credentials and is currently Professor at the Hochschule des Saarlandes für Musik und Theater in Saarbrücken, Germany. He has been a prolific recording artist for the Naxos label in particular of which this release is the fifth volume of the organ works of Rheinberger. I doubt that this composer would have known the Rieger-Sauer Organ (The Great Organ) of Fulda Cathedral but his music sounds eminently suited to it and, ably assisted by Wolfgang Rubsam, makes a strong impression here. Professor Rubsam gives successful and robust interpretations, if somewhat sober in feeling.

The recorded sound on this Naxos release is realistic but for my taste would have benefited from a slightly brighter and clearer sound. The booklet notes by Keith Anderson on the composer and his works are as usual detailed and informative. There is considerable technical detail about specifications of the organ but nothing of its history, which is a shame.

An enjoyable recording for lovers of organ works from the Romantic period, works that may need several plays before they reveal their treasures to the listener.

Michael Cookson

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