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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Chorale Fantasies
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott Op. 27[14:18]
Freu’ dich sehr, o meine Seele Op. 30[22:41]
Wie schön leucht’ uns der Morgenstern Op. 40 Nr. 1[19:11]
Straf’ mich nicht in deinem Zorn Op. 40 Nr. 2[15:39]
Alle Menschen müssen sterben Op. 52 Nr. 1[19:30]
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Op. 52 Nr. 2[24:41]
Hallelujah! Gott zu loben! Op. 52 Nr. 3[17:13]
Heinrich REIMANN (1850-1906)
Chorale Fantasy on Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern Op. 25[16:56]
Balázs Szabó (organ)
rec. E. F. Walcker & Cie organ 1878, Votivkirche Vienna, Austria, 23-25 November 2015; Gebrüder Link organ 1906, Stadkirche Giengen an der Brenz, Germany, 19–21 October 2015; Thomas Kuhn organ 1914, St. Anton Zürich, Austria, 17–19 August 2015.

When it comes to organ music Max Reger has been described as "The J.S. Bach of the twentieth century" and in my opinion he was certainly the greatest German composer of organ music of his day. One of his aims, shared with those of his composer and organist friend, Karl Straube (1873-1950), was “to reawaken organ music, slumbering since the death of J.S. Bach.” This he achieved in some of the finest, most important and in many ways, most challenging organ works of the period. One of the cornerstones of his organ output can be found in his seven mammoth Chorale Fantasies. I have had the privilege and pleasure of hearing only four of these performed live and they have an ability to give the listener goose-bumps. Here we have a wonderful recording of all seven; what a treat.

The seven Chorale Fantasies were composed between August 1898 and September 1900. They were written whilst Reger was convalescing at his parents’ home in Weiden after his military service. It was here that he learnt of Heinrich Reimann’s Chorale Fantasy on “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”. This lead him to correspond with the older composer and eventually to compose his own Fantasies based upon Reimann’s model. The Fantasies are some of his finest compositions, and not just for organ. They are powerful works that draw not only upon the original Lutheran hymn tunes, but also include a degree of music based upon textual interpretation. They're more akin to symphonic poems than to the traditional concept of a chorale. Their dynamic range is great: from very quiet sections to pulling out all the stops. This makes these works quite difficult to pull off successfully. Here the instrument plays a huge part in the success of the performances.

I have a couple of other recordings of these works. The first is by Wouter van den Broek on a Brilliant Classics 2 CD set (92081) (review review). I have always found him to be on the brisk side. The other is on Naxos who manage to spread the seven pieces over six volumes of their complete organ edition (8.555905, 8.557186, 8.557338, 8.570455, 8.570454, 8.570960) and between three different organists, which is not ideal. Martin Welzel’s recordings (Vols. 6, 8, 10) come off the best. Here this new recording by Balázs Szabó shines through. The complete Fantasies are presented in a neat 2 CD set with excellent notes containing full information about the three instruments employed for this recording. The playing is by far the best and this is aided by superb SACD crystal clear recorded sound with every nuance of these extraordinary works being captured however quiet. You also get Heinrich Reimann’s Chorale Fantasy which started it all off for Reger. This work was totally unknown to me, and whilst it is an enjoyable piece, the music of Reger is certainly a step forward in comparison; more an impetus than an influence, I think.

This is a fine recording that has quickly become my preferred option, but a word of warning should be issued. Do not listen to it through headphones, as you might find yourself turning the sound levels up through the quiet bits, only to be blasted through the louder sections.

Stuart Sillitoe



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