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Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Complete Organ Works, Vol 12

Sonata No. 19 in G minor, Op. 193 (1899) [27.37]
Sonata No. 20 in F major, Op. 196 (1901) [29.43]
Canzonetta
Intermezzo
Praeludium
Trio: Andantino
Singmesse
Rudolf Innig (organ)
Rec 7-8 August 2004, Stadtkirche St Anton, Zürich
MDG 317 0902 2 [79.24]

 

We should never make the mistake of thinking that music we don’t know is music we don’t need to know. Any thoughtful music lover will know the truth of this statement, which applies to Rheinberger and many other composers besides.

He was a prolific composer, as shown by the opus numbers behind the two main works on the twelfth and presumably final edition of his complete organ music. The programme combines two (or possibly three) large-scale major works with a series of unpublished miniatures. In addition to the sonatas the Singmesse, twelve minutes long across a sequence of nine short movements, is more than a trifle. Nor is it a major achievement, however, but rather a sequence of short chorale preludes that was discovered posthumously by Alexander Pointner. It may have been Rheinberger’s very last composition, and it is undoubtedly accomplished, but as a complete piece the whole thing feels less than the sum of the parts. Better perhaps just to play a movement or two separately.

Josef Gabriel Rheinberger had an unusually successful career spanning more than forty-five years, completing nearly two hundred published compositions. He built an illustrious reputation as a virtuoso pianist and organist, and became a distinguished teacher of composition as well as the organ. Although he was born in Lichtenstein, he spent nearly his whole career in Munich. spending 33 years as Professor of Counterpoint and Organ at the Royal School of Music. His students included Engelbert Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari, Furtwängler, and the Americans George Chadwick and Horatio Parker (the teacher of Charles Ives).

Rheinberger had many of the same aesthetic priorities as, for example, Brahms, preferring carefully crafted quasi-classical structures. Therefore the large-scale instrumental sonata appealed to him, and he wrote twenty such pieces for the organ. These two, Nos. 19 and 20 in the canon, were composed during his final years. They are strong pieces, the individual movements building to effect a cogent and balanced whole.

The sound generated is big and bold, and the opening of the G minor Sonata, which opens this programme, is the ideal testing point for the new listener. But the range is wider than easy generalizations might suggest, and in the finale the contrast of a thoughtful slow introduction and Con moto continuation makes for a highly effective movement.

The Sonata No. 20 is more ambitious still adding an extra movement (to make four) with central Intermezzo and Pastorale. These titles tell their own tale, and if the outer movements are more imposing, these slighter and more delicate contrasts do delight the ear. Although Rheinberger is not a Brahms or a Wagner is talent is a worthy one, and on this evidence his music clamours to be heard.

The MDG sound does justice both to the composer and to the splendid playing of Rudolf Innig. The sound of the Zürich organ is impressively rich, but atmospheric whenever restraint is required. For the discerning listener this disc is worth exploring.

Terry Barfoot



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