There, surely, cannot be an organist anywhere in the world who
has not, at some time, played one of Max Reger’s pieces, whether
it be the Benedictus, op.59/9 (1901) or the gigantic Variations
and Fugue in F sharp minor, op.73
(1903) or the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E minor,
op.127 (1913). Reger’s organ works cover a vast amount of music
from the smallest – Thirty Little Chorale Preludes, op.135a
– to the truly symphonic – the works already mentioned. Like Schubert
before him, he seemed to need a large time-span to allow him fully
to express exactly what he wanted. Thus there are large-scale
orchestral, chamber and choral works none of which, to me, seem
a moment too long. There are many who believe exactly the opposite
and wish that he would simply get on with it. However to rush
this man’s music is to miss the mystical quality of much that
he wrote. He was also not without a sense of humour, and there
are some delightful smaller pieces, such as the Lustspielouverture,
op.120 (1913) and Eine Ballettsuite, op.130 (1913). If
ever a composer wrote something for everybody it has to be Reger.
Where to begin is the problem because despite his mere 43 years
his output was prodigious and his 140–plus opus numbers don’t
give any idea of the real number of compositions. Some of the
opus numbers contain several different works. There are probably
as many works again, not to mention arrangements of other composer’s
works, without opus numbers.
is a good collection of organ pieces with which to start. There’s
one big work, the Chorale Fantasia on Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, op.27 which
is very serious and treads a large late-romantic path. This
is followed by the hilarious Scherzo in F sharp minor.
This could almost be one of those pieces heard live from
the Blackpool Tower ballroom, played by Reginald Dixon. It’s
so much in the light music, comic, character mould. In its registration
and execution I was reminded of some of Edwin Lemare’s marvellous
arrangements of orchestral works for the organ – such as the
Saint–Saëns Danse Macabre.
twenty pieces from the Thirty Little Chorale Preludes,
op.135a – heard in three groups – are lighter in texture, treating
their material simply and in a very straightforward manner.
There are no surprises in either harmony or melody. Here, Welzel
uses all his artistry and knowledge of the instrument to create
perfect miniatures by the judicious and intelligent choice of
the registration employed for each work. These are delightful.
The first ten pieces from this set can be found on volume 2
of this series – Naxos 8.553927 – played by Ludger Lohmann on the organ of
the Evangelical Church,
Giengen an der Brenz.
Romance in A minor, op.80/8 is a devotional piece, delicate
and quiet, like a prayer. The similarly named piece from 1904
is more passionate and intense. Being the devotee of J.S. Bach
that he was, it will come as no surprise to find a Prelude
and Fugue amongst these pieces. Indeed, there are many spread
throughout his catalogue. Here’s the genius of Reger the composer
– the Toccata isn’t the overt display piece it so usually
is. The fugue has a restraint to it, the music never raising
its voice and the textures remain pure and simple.
collection ends with the superb, and large-scale in feel, Introduction
and Passacaglia in D minor. A loud Introduction leads into
a really well built and sustained Passacaglia, with lots of
event and movement. Although this is a relatively early work
it is as well wrought as anything he ever wrote.
is a well planned and very interesting recital of little known,
if known at all to the general public, music for organ by one
of the most prolific and profound composers who ever wrote for
the instrument. Welsel plays very well indeed. As already noted
his choice of registration has been intelligently thought out
and his performances are perfect for the music. Naxos’s sound
captures the acoustic of the Trier Cathedral perfectly; there
is a full five and a half second reverberation at the end of
the Introduction and Passacaglia – a wonderful sound.
Naxos is doing us a real favour by recording the organ music
of Reger for it is music which cannot, and should not, be ignored.