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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901) Organ Music Volume 11
Sonata No. 17 op. 181 (1894) [22:08]
Sonata No. 18 op. 188 (1897) [21:33]
Zwölf Trios für Orgel op. 189 (1897) [25:46]
Consolation [3:42]
Rudolf Innig (organ)
Rec. Stadtkirke St. Anton, Zürich, 5-6 August 2004
MDG RECORDS MDG 317 0901-2 [73:45]

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Rheinberger’s twenty organ sonatas provide a wealth of organ music from the late German Romantic period, without even taking into account his numerous other small works. Each sonata takes us on a musical journey through interesting harmonic worlds while creating complete, well-rounded sonata forms. They are a joy to listen to, especially when performed by a talented organist, and performed on a suitable organ. This album manages to accomplish both.

Rudolf Innig is a fantastic organist, and his technical proficiency demonstrated on this CD is amazing. Rheinberger’s music, like that of so many other organ composers of the period, is often not only technically difficult, but musically challenging. Inning manages to find and brings to us the full power and emotion of these works. The orchestral design of the south-German Romantic organs presents difficulties in registration and performance for the typical modern organist. Successfully pulling off music of this nature requires a through knowledge of the music, the period and the organ. Despite his technical agility, I didn’t feel as if I experienced the entire tonal palette of this organ. The forte choruses are grand, full and exciting, but it is the quieter moments lacking from this album. Such an instrument, with its wealth of fundamental (over half the organ is 8 foot and 16 foot stops) can easily bury the music in its own sound. Innig works to bring out musical lines, but in a Rheinberger fugue, the music can become a muddled wall of sound. I don’t know if this is the fault of the organist, the engineers or the early 20th century organ designers.

The twelve trios, while most suited to instructional use, make for quaint listening for the second half of the album. Each one is a unique musical item and each offers an opportunity to show off different aspects of this instrument. However I found the registration choices bland and unimaginative. The organist will appreciate the list of Innig’s registrations for every track on the album, but it is often easy to see the standard and disappointing choices of stops out of such a beautiful tonal array.

The Kuhn Organ in the church of St. Anton in Zürich is a rare find. Built in 1914, it was designed exactly for the music of composers such as Rheinberger. With a few changes and adaptations over the past century, the Kuhn company recently completed restoring it to its original configuration just in time for this recording. The church was unique at the time of its construction in that the architects planned for the organ, both architecturally and acoustically, making a successful marriage of organ and room. The recording of the instrument is free of any extra instrumental noises, and is very well done and this is achieved despite the very dark, heavy sound of the instrument.

Brent Johnson

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