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Joseph RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Organ Concerto No. 1 in F major, Op. 137 (1884) [27:10]
Organ Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 177 [24:54]*
Amadeus Orchestra/Timothy Rowe
rec. St Luke Catholic Church, McLean, Virginia, April, *November
NAXOS 8.557787 [52:04]
to put too fine a point on the matter, this is a beautiful
Rheinberger, Liechtenstein's foremost composer - I'm not necessarily
sneering - was an organist from the age of seven, according
to R. Gregory Capaldini's program note. When he was nineteen,
the Munich Conservatory offered him a piano professorship,
to which he later added posts in organ and composition, and
he was the director of church music to the King of Bavaria
from 1877 to 1894. His pupils were a diverse lot, including
Engelbert Humperdinck, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, Wilhelm Furtwängler
and Horatio Parker. Unsurprisingly, the music for organ - these
concertos, along with twenty solo sonatas - constitute the
best-known, if not the largest, part of the composer's output,
though his cantata The
Star of Bethlehem and a few motets make the occasional
essential impulse from which Rheinberger's music arises is
lyrical rather than thrusting or dramatic, with the themes'
varied rhythmic profiles providing the necessary contrast.
Even the G minor concerto, after an opening theme suggesting
the influence of Mozart's Italian-opera style, settles shortly
into an amiable cantabile. The sense of form is unconventional,
but sure; the first movement of each concerto gives the impression
of a free fantasy, yet the music conveys the inevitable sense
of progress of a well-constructed sonata movement, and produces
the same sort of emotional fulfillment. And, for all the basic
Brahmsian conservatism of the composer's idiom, there's the
occasional forward-looking moment - note the way Elgar - granted,
another "Brahmsian" composer - keeps trying to break
through in the Andante of the Second Concerto.
concertos display Rheinberger's keen sense of the organ's sonic
possibilities. The instrument doesn't naturally blend with
those in the orchestra - not even the winds, whose attack is
different - but here we hear the organ and orchestra functioning
now as equally matched partners, now as gentle antagonists
in the concertante style. A particular oddity is the
use of Baroque-style terraced dynamics in the solo parts: apparently
the composer's instrument lacked a swell box, such as would
have enabled crescendos and diminuendos. The orchestra, of
course, can still make such gradual adjustments, which helps
to avoid monotony.
performances are mostly first-rate. Paul Skevington is an adept,
accomplished soloist, and his sensitive, intelligent registrations
offer fullness and clarity without cluttering the air with
overtones - a salutary reminder of the instrument's capabilities
if too much mediocre, undifferentiated church playing has dulled
your ears. The Amadeus Orchestra, comprising strings along
with three horns (in the F major concerto) or pairs of trumpets
and horns with timpani (in the G minor), supports him handsomely.
The strings lean into their themes with dignity and breadth.
The horns have the occasional moment in the limelight, but
principally serve as a sort of timbral bridge between the organ
and the strings. The trumpets in the G minor, alas, let down
the side: their little duet at 5:10 of the finale is limp,
and their tuning generally is dubious.
sound is excellent. The organ-orchestra combination can be
difficult to record, especially when the organ pipes are dispersed
throughout a spacious venue, but this production team simply
makes the problems go away. The organ sounds clean and "present" within
a roomy acoustic; the strings' space is clearly defined, with
the horns registering naturally within the string body - nicely
once again goes to Naxos for taking a relatively obscure recording
- this one originally appeared on the Sonoris label - and bringing
it the wider circulation it deserves … despite the trumpets.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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