The Naxos Reger organ music cycle must be approaching completion
if it has reached volume 11; not that it has been a cycle in
any integrated sense. It uses different organs and different
organists throughout. Even so, it is an admirable endeavour,
and even though Reger struggles to find an audience in the English-speaking
world, respect for his music among organists runs high.
The programme here is made up of two sets. Opus numbers in the
high 70s and low 80s place these works around the beginning
of the 20th century, which for most of his composition
career was a period of dense counterpoint and experimental harmony.
That said, there is little of either here. All the works appear
to have been written for liturgical use, and (unlike Messiaen)
Reger has no intention of challenging the musical tastes of
the congregation. There is chromaticism in the sense of chromatic
descents in the pedals and chromatically ascending sequences,
but that's not the same as atonality. Even so, just because
the music is comfortable, that doesn't mean it is uninteresting.
Reger's flair for counterpoint is everywhere apparent, and he
has a remarkable feeling for what works well on the organ, to
the extent that not a single note seems wasted.
Reger only specifies the registers he has in mind for each movement,
rather than prescribing specific stops. Perhaps he is assuming
that, given the gentle character of most of this music, the
organist will play it safe. That is certainly what happens here.
There are occasional loud moments, as at the end of Op.79b No.11,
but even here the choice of stops is quite conservative in terms
of the round sounds they produce. A little more contrast would
have been nice in the Chorale Preludes between the chorale theme,
usually in the right hand, and the counterpoint. Reger isn't
Bach, much as he tried to imitate him; great as his counterpoint
is, it occasionally needs a helping hand.
The Rieger-Sauer organ in Fulda Cathedral is an older and creakier
machine than you'll usually find on organ recordings these days.
It is also a huge instrument, and the registration list takes
up two pages of the liner. It has some elegant colours, which
are occasionally put to good use, but this music would be equally,
perhaps better, suited to a smaller instrument. The organ has
also caused the recording engineers some problems, and many
of the registers are strangely distant, as if they were hidden
away at the very back of a huge organ case, with no possibility
of getting a microphone close. There is little extraneous resonance
from the church, which is a plus, but even so the organ sound
Does Reger's organ music deserve better than this? Many would
say that if you don't like the recording, the composer is as
much to blame as anybody. Even so, a little more precision and
clarity would make all the difference with many of these short
works. Most of this music is well conceived and expertly written,
but it is going to take a recording with more impact than this
one to win the composer many new converts.