Max REGER (1873-1916)
Organ Works Volumes 1-3
Vol. 1

Fantasy and Fugue on BACH, Op 46 (1900) [21:03]
Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor, WoO IV / 6 (1899) [9:29]
Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue, Op 57 (1901) [25:23]
Second Sonata in D minor, Op 60 (1901) [25:35]
Vol. 2
Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue in E minor, Op 127 (1913) [30:18]
Nine Pieces, Op 129 (1913) [32:16]
Vol. 3
Fantasy and Fugue in D minor, Op 135b (1915/1916) [16:59]
Seven Pieces, Op 145 (1915/1916) [54:03]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
rec. 2014, Lutherkirche, Wiesbaden
CYBELE RECORDS SACD 051501-3 [81:30 & 62:35 & 71:03]

Cybele Records have in the past touched on the organ work of Max Reger in a recording by Willem Tanke (review), but these three discs represent a much more ambitious project. When I first looked at the site it was described as a “complete recording of Reger’s best!”, but this statement has now been removed and these seem to be the start of an actual complete “Max Reger Edition”. The discs arrived in three loose cardboard sleeves with full track-listings and documentation though no booklet notes, though these are included as a PDF file along with the various download options on the Cybele Records site.

Cybele’s recordings are almost all SACD hybrid discs and these are no exception, with very fine 5.1 channel surround sound. These particular discs also have 3D-Binaural-Stereo, so keen headphone listeners such as myself can enjoy the acoustic picture delivered by the so-called ‘dummy head’ recording technique, which aims to reproduce the sound as you would hear it sitting in exactly the same place as the microphones. There is a little lecture about this at the start of each disc which helps set up your volume for the ideal effect. This only appears on the SACD layer, almost quashing a moan I was about to bring out about putting the spoken text on a separate track. Other than hearing a nice German female voice “travel across your head”, this information could as easily have been printed somewhere and take less time with each play, but this is a minor distraction. The effect as compared to standard stereo is a considerable enhancement, though the recordings are pretty spectacular either way. Binaural recordings tend to have their greatest effect when things are moving about or you are receiving the sounds of instruments from different places. Organs are by their very nature static, and with reasonable distance from the instrument as we have here, the sound blends nicely rather than offering masses of acoustic dynamism between registers or individual pipes. What you can do is close your eyes and very easily imagine you are in the perfect position to enjoy the stunning 1911 Great Walcker Organ in the Lutherkirche in Wiesbaden.

I have admired Martin Schmeding’s recordings before, and his performances of Tilo Medek are still amongst some of the most remarkable organ sounds I have ever heard (see review). I’ve heard him in other contemporary repertoire and Bach, but not so much in the kind of Romantic genre which Max Reger’s music occupies. The superb Fantasie und Fuge über B-A-C-H op. 46 which opens disc 1 sounds excellent, the theme from ‘The Art of Fugue’ emerging like a voice of doom from the inner workings of Reger’s elaborate counterpoint. Talking about voices of doom, the Introduction und Passacaglia in d-moll from 1899 is always a favourite, and with any Reger edition set to compete with the Naxos complete collection I had a listen to Volume 8, with Martin Welzel in Trier Cathedral. Recorded at what sounds like closer proximity, the Naxos version has more impact in the opening, but you would have to decide for yourself if you prefer a seat near the aisle or actually in the organ loft. Both of these performances have much to commend them, with Schmeding taking an extra minute and a half or so with a broader reading of the Passacaglia. Switching between recordings also teaches you more about the qualities of Cybele’s 3D recording. Once you become accustomed to it it’s easy to be a bit blasé as to the advantages of such a set-up, but returning to it from a conventional recording really is like entering a completely different space. By chance I wrote this review exactly one year to the day after the recording dates of the first disc, and I felt a little ecclesiastical March chill when going ‘back in’, as it were.

I won’t go through every work, but these are all terrific performances and well worth experiencing in these luxury sonics. Reger’s organ works tend to grandness of scale, and Martin Schmeding’s unhurried elegance suits the music perfectly. He takes on the Gothic physicality of these pieces and gives plenty of weight where required, but you don’t have the feeling of things becoming overblown. His shaping of melodies in gentler pieces such as in the Neun Stücke on Vol. 2 is disarmingly delicious, and while the great Germanic tradition is as ever being upheld I don’t have the feeling of it being rammed down our throats. If this is indeed planned as a complete Reger organ edition then it seems more than likely that it will be the one taking centre-stage in my collection.

Dominy Clements

There is one important remark about the usage of our 3D spoken word trailer. I have the impression that you obviously misunderstood the meaning of this trailer. During the last years I did many research work about 3D recording technique. It's absolutely necessary and very important that the listener adjusts his listening level to a "reference" level. And this level is DIFFERENT for each music recording as they take place in different rooms with different microphone positions. So the listener can only adjust his level by having sounds which he is used to listen to (e.g. a spoken word in 1m distance). If you lower the listening level (or if you increase the level) this would have a BIG influence to the reproduction of the 3D recording! This is the reason why we put this trailer to each 3D recording so that the listener calibrates his listening level before starting to playback music. So it's not possible to "print" this information - of course we will add detailed information about the 3D technique, but this will not help the listener for a calibration process.

Ingo Schmidt-Lucas (Cybele Records)