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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Organ Sonata in D minor, Op. 60 (1901) [23:40]
Organ Pieces, Op. 65, Nos. 7-12 (1902) [34:33]
Chorale Fantasia on Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Op. 52, No. 2 (1900) [19:59]
Stefan Frank (organ)
Rec. Fulda Cathderal, Fulda, Germany, October 2002
NAXOS 8.557186 [78:12]

 

Naxos is doing the world a wonderful favor by recording complete works of many composers in multiple volumes. Their usual approach is for each volume to be recorded in a different location and by a different musician. This allows the listener the opportunity to compare and contrast interpretations of often overlooked works, in different venues and instruments. Naxos also manages to make these albums very accessible to the public with lots of biographical information in the CD booklet, and by keeping prices in check. Volume 5, the latest in the volumes of the organ music of Max Reger, does all of this.

The selection of Fulda Cathedral for recording Regerís music was a good one. Itís not a sound many listeners are familiar with, especially American listeners. It sad that the idea of the "Romantic" organ fell out of favor with so many 20th century organists and builders. The art of registration on such an instrument is lost to many contemporary performers, and the resulting sound is often unfamiliar. The abundance of foundation tone in the heavily leaded flues, upperwork that merely shimmers not shines, and reeds that can snarl their way through the forest of 8 foot pitch is a combination of sounds many organ builders have left in the late 19th century. This is a shame, as the music of Reger and his contemporaries demands this sound, and when properly executed, the effect is quite moving..

The organist, Stefan Frank, is a technical master, however he takes time to warm to the music. I donít know the order in which these tracks were recorded, but I could believe he started from track 1 and worked his way through in the order they are presented on the CD. The opening few tracks, while beautifully recorded and played with technical perfection, are less than stunning. Itís difficult to wrestle the musical lines away from Regerís technical and harmonic grasp. With hands spanning large gaps while realizing surprising harmonies, Mr. Frank has let some of the beauty of these works slip away. Maybe, then, it is the organistís technical mastery that allows him to make the most musical sense out of the four fugues. Reger is often thought of as the most important German composer for organ since Bach, and I think his fugues are one reason why. They are technically challenging to play and feature a much wider harmonic spectrum than ever available to Bach. The opportunities for pitfalls are great, but somehow Mr. Frank makes his most beautiful music on these works. The well-known and oft-recorded Chorale Fantasia on ĎWachet auf, ruft uns die Stimmeí is by far the best performance on the CD. I like to think the organist was warmed up by this point and finally gives us his best in this thrilling work. His realization of the Fugue is exciting, slowly building what should be just a technical study for an organist into a brilliant, emotional climax. If only the entire album could have the musicality and energy of the last few tracks, it would be quite wonderful.

Brent Johnson



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