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Max REGER (1873–1916)
Organ Works - Volume 8
Chorale Fantasia on Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, op.27 (1898) [16:11]
Scherzo in F sharp minor (Twelve Pieces, op.80/7) (1904) [5:14]
Thirty Little Chorale Preludes, op.135a (nos.11 – 16) (1914) [8:15]
Romance in A minor (Twelve Pieces, op.80/8) (1904) [4:29]
Thirty Little Chorale Preludes, op.135a (nos.17 – 23) (1914) [12:26]
Romanze in A minor (1904) [4:12]
Thirty Little Chorale Preludes, op.135a (nos.24 – 30) (1914) [9:16]
Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor (1912) [6:33]
Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor (1899) [7:55]
Martin Welzel (organ)
rec. 24-25 October 2007, Trier Cathedral, Germany DDD
NAXOS 8.570455 [75:38]
Experience Classicsonline

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. 

This 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. 

The 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. 

The 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.

This 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. 

This 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.

Bob Briggs


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