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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Präludium und Fuge über BACH [13:59]
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen [20:02]
Fantasie und Fuge über den Choral ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam’ [27:17]
Gerhard Weinberger (organ)
rec. Passau Dom 30 April, 1 May 1984, 9 May 2005. DDD

Gerhard Weinberger is best known as the editor of the complete organ works of Johann Ludwig Krebs - the definitive edition. He is also admired for his recording, on often interesting and little known historic organs, of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach for CPO. Here Christophorus present a re-issue of his 1984 recording of the Ad Nos Fantasia of Liszt, together with new recordings of the ‘BACH’ Fantasia and Fugue, and the variations on ‘Weinen, Klagen’.
The organ has to be commented upon first though. The Dom in Passau is reputedly the largest baroque church north of the Alps. Perhaps more famously it contains what was for many years the largest church organ in the world. The postcards which can still be bought all over Passau still claim this to be the case, even though it has long since been overtaken by several organs in the USA. To describe it as a single organ is in any case far-fetched. It is in fact five separate organs, scattered all over the church, no fewer than three of which have their own consoles. The claim is based then on the fact that the organ also has a so-called ‘generalspieltisch’ allowing the player to control all five organs (the Hauptorgel, Evangelienorgel, Epistelorgel, Chorororgel and Fernorgel), totalling 229 stops, and nearly 18,000 pipes. It was built initially by Steinmeyer in 1928, and thoroughly revised by the local firm of Eisenbarth in 1976-1981. I visited it briefly last year, and took in one of the almost daily recitals given there for the tourists. Its size seemed to be its only interesting feature; the echo effects possible between parts of the organ at opposite ends of the giant church were cute, but hardly memorable. The reeds were ugly and the bass frequencies were completely sucked up by the carpet of tourists -  all of whom seemed to have come from Minnesota. At least it was loud. Eisenbarth’s work clearly obscured much of the original late-romantic character of the instrument. Listen, as an interesting comparison, to Peter Sykes’s Reger CD ‘Maximum Reger’ on the Raven label, recorded on the Steinmeyer organ in Altoona, PA, built just three years after the Passau organ (Raven  OAR-430).
Here the Passau organ sounds a little better than when I visited. The room is at least more reverberant when empty, and while I’m not really seduced, Weinberger’s brilliant and committed performances, and imaginative use of the vast resources available to him make for enjoyable listening. Of the performances, ‘Weinen, Klagen’ is, at 20 minutes, at the slow end of the scale, though colourfully registered and expressively played, while ‘Ad nos’, at 27 minutes is among the very quickest recordings. Interestingly this dates from twenty years before the other recordings. Weinberger’s playing is perhaps slightly more aggressive, though always exciting, and the recorded sound is more brutal and lacks breadth.
Weinberger’s performances alone make this well worth having, and recordings of the Passau monster are comparatively thin on the ground. The organ’s triumph of quantity over quality however means it can’t be a first choice recommendation. Again I would recommend Nicholas Kynaston’s recording of Ad Nos on Guild as the essential recording of the work (GMCD 7210).
Chris Bragg


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