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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Fantasia über den Choral 'Ein feste Burg' Op. 27 (1898) [14:38]
Fantasia on the Chorale ‘Wie schön leucht' uns der Morgenstern', Op. 40 No. 1 [1:37]
Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, Op. 135a, No. 14 [1:23]
Lobe den Herren, Op. 67, No. 24 [1:04]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir Op. 67 No. 3 [2:19]
Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend’, Op. 67, No. 9 [0:48]
Chorale Fantasia on 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme', Op. 52 No. 2 [1:37]
Chorale Prelude 'Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele' ,Op. 135a No. 9 [1:26]
Ach bleib mit deiner Gnade, Op. 135a, No. 1 [1:03]
O daß ich tausend Zungen hätte, Op. 135a No. 19 [1:02]
Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt, Op. 67, No. 18 [1:09]
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [2:37]
Großer Gott, wir loben dich, Op. 135a, No.10 [1:10]
Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue Op. 127 (1913) [31:42]
Christoph Schoener (organ)
rec. March 2015, St. Michealis-Church, Hamburg

I’m not usually swayed by promises of wonderful sound quality when it comes to recordings, but the sonics for this release are a strong feature: “The reproduction… positions the three organ units with breathtaking vividness in the living room and provides a precise acoustic picture of Hamburg's principal church.” This I found it hard to resist.

Christoph Schoener’s performances have been recorded on the organs of St. Michaelis Church in Hamburg using MDGs 2+2+2 format. In standard stereo this is a striking enough recording, but this really is a disc for Super-Audio fans, and the 5.1 mix is one in which you can close your eyes and bathe in the effects from this glorious location. The church acoustic is by no means swampy, but plenty of space has been allowed for the instruments so that sheer impact is moderated by a natural perspective and a fine atmosphere. The full weight of the low registers can be experienced from the start, with the Fantasia über den Choral 'Ein feste Burg' a genuine sonic feast.

Max Reger’s organ music has received plenty of attention in recent years, with a complete editions from Naxos and cycles ongoing and otherwise from labels such as Oehms Classics and CPO making access to these works easy enough. The Thirty Little Chorale Preludes might seem a bit of a surprise choice given the amount of more spectacular repertoire available from this source, but these late gems from around 1914 have a strong connection with Hamburg and the St Michaelis Church, a venue known to Reger for a variety of reasons, including a visit in 1912. These examples of “skilfully crafted simplicity” are by no means dull, and the selection has been made with care and thought for the various aspects of the organs that are represented. Quiet, almost ethereal sounds can be heard in Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, contrasting with the confident growl of something like Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt. Equally fascinating are Reger’s rich harmonisations, which colour and transform these often straightforward chorale melodies into something involving and often surprising and impressive – much as Bach did in his day.

As a truly grand finale, the Introduction, Passacaglia und Fuge Op. 127 is one of Reger’s monumental organ works. Johannes Adam describes it in his booklet notes as “a festival of expressiveness, form and colour”, and especially with this kind of instrument and environment you know you are in for a treat. By no means is this merely a sequence of bombastic statements, and one can find oneself being drawn into sections of sublime beauty and genuinely orchestral contrasts of colour. Listening to this aural spectacle I was reminded of the binaural recording of Reger’s Op. 127 on the Cybele label (see review). With two very fine recordings in similar timings the quality comes down to the character of the organ as much as anything, and making the comparison is proof of how very fine the Hamburg main organ is. Martin Schmeding in Wiesbaden has a marginally brighter or leaner sound but a good deal more mechanical noise. The binaural recording is pretty stunning but designed for headphones where MDG’s techniques are intended to fill your room – and fill it it does, to stunning effect.

This is far more than a mere hi-fi test for your speakers, and credit must go to Christoph Schoener’s excellent performances. He has also recorded J.S. Bach’s Toccatas at the same venue (MDG 9491893-6), and if this Reger disc is anything to go by I shall have to add this one to my wish list.

Dominy Clements



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