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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.

The seven Chorale Fantasies form the core of a body of organ works Reger composed over a fruitful period of two years (1898-1900) in Weiden, the home of his parents. Amongst his finest achievements, these magnificent, large-scaled pieces found their initial inspiration in the Heinrich Reiman Chorale Fantasy Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, included in this recording. Reger had read Fritz Volbach’s analysis of the Reiman Chorale in the Allgemeine Musik-Zeitung in 1896. This prompted him to order the music for further detailed study, as well as sending its composer a letter of praise. Another factor was his friendship with the organist Karl Straube, who shared Reger’s aim "to reawaken organ music, slumbering since the death of J.S. Bach". The two men collaborated closely during the Weiden period. The organist not only premiered six of the Chorale Fantasies, but championed Reger’s music throughout the rest of his life. Interestingly, Straube had been a pupil of Reiman.

The scale, scope and emotional impact these giants amongst organ works have engendered has helped establish Reger’s undisputed place as the most important German composer of organ music since Johann Sebastian Bach. Yet they aren’t easily accessible. On first acquaintance they can appear overlong, stuffy and tortuously chromatic. Yet for those willing to persevere, the rewards are satisfying and the treasures to be found therein immense. My favourite is Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme Op.52 Nr. 2. Szabó delivers a thrilling performance, building the music from muted serenity to an overwhelming powerful climax.

Throughout this stunning traversal, he has subtle control of dynamics from extreme pianissimo to earth-shattering fortissimos. Choice of registration is varied and imaginative and is consistently in keeping with the nature and character of the music. Another plus is that Szabó has selected three different instruments to showcase these splendid masterpieces, choosing organs from Vienna, Giengen and Zurich. The 1887 Walcker in Vienna's Votive Church has mechanical cone-valve chests. The 1906 organ by the Link Brothers in Giengen and the 1914 Kuhn instrument in St. Anthony's Church in Zurich have pneumatic cone-valve chests. He explains in the liner-notes that these three organs represent "the three stages of development in late Romantic organ building that took place during Reger’s lifetime".

The recording engineers have worked wonders in each of the three venues, sympathetically capturing the detail and myriad colouristic range of each instrument. I sincerely hope that there will be more Reger to come from Szabó, whose convincing advocacy of this music is compelling in every respect.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe



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