REGER: 6 Trios, Op. 47 / Introduction, Variations and Fugue, Op. 73 (Martin Welzel/ Wolfgang Rubsam) (Naxos: 8.557338)
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Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works Volume 6
Chorale Fantasia on 'Alle Menschen m??ssen sterben', Op. 52, No. 1
Six Trios, Op. 47
Introduction, Variations and Fugue in F sharp minor on an Original Theme, Op. 73
Max Reger owed his earlier interest in music to theexample and enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmasterand amateur musician, and his early training to the townorganist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was bornin 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. Thefollowing year the family moved to Weiden and it wasthere that he spent his childhood and adolescence,embarking on a course of training as a teacher when heleft school. Lindner had sent examples of Reger's earlycompositions to his own former teacher, HugoRiemann, who accepted Reger as a pupil, at first inSondershausen and then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden.
Military service, which affected Reger's health andspirits, was followed by a period at home with hisparents in Weiden and a continuing series ofcompositions, in particular for the organ, including amonumental series of chorale fantasias and othercompositions, often, it seems, designed to challenge thetechnique of his friend Karl Straube, a noted performerof Reger's organ music.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spentthe next six years. His position in musical life was insome ways an uneasy one, since he was seen as achampion of absolute music and as hostile, at this time,to programme music, to the legacy of Wagner and Liszt.
He was successful, however, as a pianist and wasgradually able to find an audience for his music. Theperiod in Munich brought the composition of hisSinfonietta, of chamber music, and of fine sets ofkeyboard variations on themes by Bach and Beethoven,followed in later years by his well-known variations ona theme by Mozart.
1907 brought a change in Reger's life, when hetook the position of professor of composition at theUniversity of Leipzig, at a time when his music wasreaching a much wider public. This was supported byhis own distinction as a performer and concertappearances in London, St Petersburg, the Netherlands,and Austria, and throughout Germany. In 1911 he wasinvited by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to becomeconductor of the court orchestra, an ensembleestablished by Hans von B??low and once conducted byRichard Strauss, at the outset of his career. Reger heldthis position until the beginning of the war, when theorchestra was disbanded, an event that coincided withhis own earlier intention to resign. He spent his finalyears based in Jena, but continuing his active career asa composer and as a concert performer. He died inLeipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concerttour of the Netherlands.
The music of Max Reger has a special position inorgan repertoire, and he is regarded by many as thegreatest German composer of organ music since Bach.
A Catholic himself, he nevertheless drew on Lutherantradition and the rich store of chorales, the inspirationfor chorale preludes, chorale fantasias and other works.
The esteem in which his organ compositions were heldeven in his own time owed much to the advocacy ofKarl Straube, also a pupil of Riemann and from 1902organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
Reger wrote his Chorale Fantasia on 'AlleMenschen m??ssen sterben', Op. 52, No. 1, (All menmust die) in 1900, dedicating it to Julius Smend, thenProfessor of Theology at the University of Strasbourg, apioneer in the study of earlier Lutheran music and aleading figure in research into the use of music in theProtestant liturgy. With an Introduction marked at firstAssai agitato e molto espressivo (vivace), there isalmost at once a reminder of Bach's Durch Adams Fall(Through Adam's fall), with the characteristic intervalof a descending seventh, an aural representation of theFall of Adam that is to recur. The characteristicallydense chromatic figuration leads to the chorale melody,the score including the words of the first verse. Themelody itself is shared by manuals and pedals,appearing first in the tenor register, then the bass,continuing in the soprano, followed by the pedals againand completed in the tenor. A dramatic interlude leadsto more elaborate figuration with the third verse of thechorale, Jesus ist f??r mich gestorben (Jesus died forme), marked pppp and again shared by varyingregisters, manuals and pedals. A shorter episode isfollowed by a version of the melody with the words ofthe sixth verse superscribed, O Jerusalem, du schone,ach wie helle glanzest du! (O Jerusalem, thou beautiful,how bright thou shinest!). The intervening episodeagain leads to a dramatic dynamic climax before thechorale, with the words of the seventh verse, Ach, ichhabe schon erblicket (Ah, I have often seen this greatglory), is heard in left-hand octaves, amid elaboratesurrounding figuration. The fantasia mounts to a climaxfor the final words 'mit der goldnen Ehrenkrone stehich' (with the golden crown of glory I stand), with aconcluding apotheosis.
The Six Trios for Organ, Op. 47, were published in1900. The set opens with a Canon in E major, anAndante with the lower voice answered at the fourth bythe upper, with a steady bass pattern for the pedals.
There follows a lively D minor Gigue, markedVivacissimo and treated contrapuntally, with tworepeated sections. The third trio is an A minorCanzonetta marked Andantino and in predominantlyfour-part texture and ternary form. Marked Vivacissimo,the A major Scherzo offers immediate contrast, framingan A minor trio section.
The fifth trio is an E minor Siciliano, markedAndantino and in the characteristic rhythm suggested byits title. The set ends with a C minor Fugue, its Vivacesubject interrupted by a descending octave incontrasting registration. This provides a technicallyassured conclusion to pieces that are never less thanpleasing.
Dedicated to Karl Straube, Reger's Variations andFugue on an Original Theme, Op. 73, was written in1903. An extended and immensely demanding work, itopens with an Introduction, chromatic and concentratedin its organ textures and contrasts of timbre. This fadesto the softest dynamic before the theme appears as agentle Andante. The extended variations that follow areof contrasting complexity, with a prophetic stretching ofthe bounds of tonality, before the final gentle choralelikeversion of the theme. In the fugue, markedVivacissimo, the four voices introduce the thematicallyderived subject in the order alto, soprano, tenor andbass, the whole culminating in a massive dynamicclimax over a dominant pedal-point.Keith Anderson