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South German Organ Music from the Late Romantic Period
Gottfried RÜDINGER (1886-1946)
Sonata in B minor, Op.68 [12:20]
Joseph HAAS (1879-1960)
Impromptu in E minor [6:34]
Anton BEER-WALBRUNN (1864-1929)
Fugue in C, Op.29 No.2 [8:07]
Joseph SCHMID (1868-1945)
Elegia in C minor, Op.48 [4:31]
Passus et sepultus est, Op.110, No.3 [5:26]
Joseph RENNER JNR. (1868-1934)
Theme and Variations in C minor, Op.58 [8:35]
Arthur PIECHLER (1896-1974)
Puer natus est, Op.16 No.3 [2:15]
Nocturno (Salve regina), Op.39 No.4 [3:49]
Gustav GEIERHASS (1888-1976)
Phantasie and Fugato capriccioso in D [11:33]
Gerhard Weinberger (organ)
rec. Sept. 2015, St Martin’s Church, Munich-Moosach, Germany

For me, and, I expect, for most reading this, the music on this disc will be wholly unfamiliar. Indeed, no less than five of these nine organ works are billed as having here their “Première Recordings”. I can fully understand why so few organists have tackled this repertory before on disc and why it is so rarely heard in recital programmes. This is solid, weighty stuff. I am surprised the CD does not weigh as much as a block of granite, so heavy are its musical contents.

The two big names in Germanic music of the late 19th century – Reger and Rheinberger – are absent, but their spirit lives on in music which rarely puts a smile on its face (much of it is in the minor mode), often delves into dark and labyrinthine chromatic passages, and verges on the borders of turgidity. That it manages not only to avoid this but also, at times, come across as surprisingly absorbing, is due in part to the fabulously vivid recording of the gloriously robust and full-blooded organ of this German church and the excellent playing of Gerhard Weinberger.

Of the organ, I can report that it was completed in 2015 (this recording was made just over four months after its official dedication), was built by the Swiss company Goll, and has, over its three mechanical-action manuals and straight pedalboard, a total of 40 speaking stops. The church itself has, on the evidence of this excellent recording, a warm rather than an overly generous acoustic, and the sound of the organ has an almost testosterone-filled presence in the building.

As for Weinberger himself, he was until 2011 Professor of Organ at the Hochschule für Musik in Detmold. As director of an ensemble called the Deutsche Bach-Vocalisten he has received “outstanding reviews from critics all over the world”. He gets a pretty good one from me for his organ playing, for I suspect that it is largely his feel for colour, for musical structure and his fluency at managing this instrument which makes this potentially indigestible music so palatable.

As for the music itself, fugues and chorale-based melodies are much in evidence, as well they might in a musical era in which the great 18th century masters of Lutheran church music still dominated the musical landscape. Two substantial works bookend the programme. Gustav Geierhaas’s frighteningly Reger-esque Phantasie und Fugato capriccioso is clearly an exhibition in virtuoso display, which makes an interesting counterweight to the comment in the booklet notes that he was a “modest, withdrawn, often even melancholy composer [who] abhorred the idea of currying favour”. It is a glorious vehicle for Weinberger’s own outstanding virtuosity as well as for the grand sound this organ can produce, but I cannot see it ever seriously finding a place in the wider organ repertory.

The declamatory opening of Gottfried Rüdinger’s Sonata certainly is very imposing, and there are some intriguing passages of complex harmonic and rhythmic passagework which, I have to say, are brilliantly executed by Weinberger. But while the first of the Sonata’s two movements has its moments and adopts a musical language which certainly moves on from that of his teacher Reger, the second digs down so deeply into subdued chromatic mud that even the pleasing stops of this lovely organ cannot extricate anything worthwhile from it.

Among the shorter, stand-alone pieces, I greatly like Anton Beer-Wilson’s Fugue based on the Credo – a plainchant theme which inspired another late-German romantic organist, Sigfrid Karg-Elert to some of his most elevated musical ideas. On the other hand Joseph Schmid’s two pieces are so weighed down by chromaticism only Weinberger’s use of organ colour and the charming sound of the organ itself justify repeated listening; in Passus et sepultus est there is something gloriously spooky about the sound Weinberger produces from this instrument. I read from the superlative documentation with this CD that these are among “more than 400 compositions” by Schmid; I’m not sure that, despite his fine advocacy, Weinberger has convinced me that the other 398 are worth rescuing from the obscurity into which they have fallen.

Joseph Renner, who, like Schmid, was a pupil of Rheinberger, was a member of an eminent musical family in Regensburg. He was organist of that city’s cathedral for almost 50 years. If his rambling Theme and Variations is anything to go by, he enjoyed improvisation for the freedom it gave him from the tyranny of coherent musical purpose or direction. Much the same could be said of Joseph Haas’s Impromptu which certainly makes some powerful gestures and exploits the dynamic range of the organ to its full, but is generally too bogged down in the chromatic excesses derived from Reger (of whom Haas was a pupil) to be wholly enticing.

Despite its title, Arthur Piechler’s Puer natus est is no chorale-based exposition of a melody, but an utterly charming piece of mood painting, giving us delicate little flute passages like flurries of snow over an enchanting harmonic environment. His Nocturno does set the melody of Salve regina but in an atmospheric and endearing way, combining the strings and flutes of the organ. Here is a composer whose music deserves rescuing from obscurity; and the booklet tells us there is a great deal of it to be re-discovered, including the other three pieces from the collection from which these two charmers originate.

This programme has clearly been a labour both of love and of dedicated research by Weinberger, and while not all the music seems worth the effort he has put into it, the recording quality, the splendid sound of this brand new organ and Weinberger’s own playing combine to create a disc of real quality.

Marc Rochester



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