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Franz LACHNER (1803-1890)
Complete Organ Works

Prelude and Fugue (1856) [9:20]
Sonata op.175 (1877) [18:01]
Fugue [2:01]
Sonata op. 176 (1877) [18:39]
Prelude and Fugue [6:22]
Sonata op. 177 (1877) [9:52]
Fugue [2:32]
Rudolf Innig (organ)
rec. Walcker Organ St. Jakobus Ilmenau, 2-4 April 2007
Experience Classicsonline

Spanning the greater part of the 19th century, Franz Lachner could count Schubert’s Viennese circle as friends, met Beethoven, and as a conductor he performed and promoted Wagner’s operas. His connection with the organ would have begun as a child, with music lessons from his father Anton, who was church organist in Rain am Lech. It was however late in life that he embarked on his trilogy of organ sonatas, modelling these pieces to a certain extent on the examples of Felix Mendelssohn, whose six organ sonatas Op.65 had been published in 1845.

Rudolf Innig however, in his own detailed and informative booklet notes, points out the differences between Lachner and Mendelssohn. The stately ‘predilection for elegiac-melancholy movements in moderated tempos’ recalling more often the piano music of Schubert, even though the harmonic language is in no way as experimental or far-reaching. There is a deal of enharmonic shifting and modulatory exploration, but rarely with a huge ‘wow’ factor or element of surprise. More ambitious in structure than the Sonata Op.175 is the Sonata Op.176, whose second and third movements are fused to form a ‘Fantasia with Fugue’, something which would be adopted by Lachner’s pupil Joseph Rheinberger. There are some dramatic gestures and a more searching air of chromaticism in this Fantasia, but there remains a reluctance to part with that sustained, rather religious feel, and one feels that perhaps a little more bravura might be welcome by this point. The music is beautifully crafted however, and one can easily revel in this lambent glow of warmly expressive organ sounds.

This is a good point at which to describe the organ used for this recording. Built in 1911, the instrument preserves the ideal organ sound as sought from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th, reflecting that warmly romantic sound for which Eberhard Friedrich Walcker (1794-1872) received just recognition. This is combined with a large sixteen stop swell, which gives just enough added weight and expressive potential to approach something akin to French symphonic models. Franz Lachner’s organ works demand considerable dynamic variety, and this instrument is a very good choice – not bowling the listener over with sonic fireworks, but carrying the composer’s detailed intentions with elegance and appropriate seriousness.

The third Sonata Op.177 is the shortest of the three, but by no means the lightest in musical content.  A funereal opening Adagio sets the tone, and with each movement having a thematic or character relationship, this sonata has quite an organic feel, leading up to a final Andante whose ten variations lead up to the closest one gets to an apotheosis in these works. The additional variety of preludes and fugues on this CD are technically interesting and highly effective, without being works which are likely to shake your world to its foundations.

This is an enjoyable disc of works otherwise unavailable on recordings as far as I have been able to discover. MDG’s recording is very good indeed as usual, and while there might be those who might ask a little more lightness of touch from Rudolf Innig it would be hard to point to many places where the player has the opportunity for such frivolity. There is a nice added touch in the final repeat performance of the Fugue in E minor, but this time without the electric motor – the bellows being blown by hand. Speaking from experience, this is a harder job than it might sound: one has to be prepared for the extra ‘oomph’ required by denser passages, and it is a precarious balance sometimes between glorious teamwork and the whole thing collapsing like a dying set of bagpipes – something from which, for that evening at least, neither the player, the pumper or the audience are likely ever to recover.

Franz Lachner is a composer whose star is might possibly be on the rise - comparatively, with a recent release of his Requiem also to be found in the current catalogues. On the strength of this release there is certainly a good deal of pleasant music to be found from this direction, albeit not music which is likely to alter our perceptions of 19th century creativity to any huge extent.

Dominy Clements



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