REGER: Organ Sonata No. 2 / Organ Pieces, Op. 65 / Chorale Fantasia No. 2, Op. 52 (Stefan Frank) (Naxos: 8.557186)
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Max Reger (1873-1916): Organ Works 5
Organ Sonata in D minor, Op. 60 Organ Pieces, Op. 65, Nos. 7-12
Chorale Fantasia on 'Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme', Op. 52, No. 2
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, Hugo Riemann,who accepted Reger as a pupil, at first in Sondershausenand then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden. Militaryservice, which affected Reger's health and spirits, wasfollowed by a period at home with his parents in Weidenand a continuing series of compositions, in particular forthe organ, including a monumental series of choralefantasias and other compositions, often, it seems,designed to challenge the technique of his friend KarlStraube, a noted performer of Reger's organ music.
In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent thenext six years. His position in musical life was in someways an uneasy one, since he was seen as a champion ofabsolute music and as hostile, at this time, to programmemusic, to the legacy of Wagner and Liszt. He wassuccessful, however, as a pianist and was gradually ableto find an audience for his music. The period in Munichbrought the composition of his Sinfonietta, of chambermusic, and of fine sets of keyboard variations on themesby Bach and Beethoven, followed in later years by hiswell-known variations on a theme by Mozart.
1907 brought a change in Reger's life, when he tookthe position of professor of composition at theUniversity of Leipzig, at a time when his music wasreaching a much wider public. This was supported by hisown distinction as a performer and concert appearancesin London, St Petersburg, the Netherlands, and Austria,and throughout Germany. In 1911 he was invited by theDuke of Saxe-Meiningen to become conductor of thecourt orchestra, an ensemble established by Hans vonB??low and once conducted by Richard Strauss, at theoutset of his career. Reger held this position until thebeginning of the war, when the orchestra was disbanded,an event that coincided with his own earlier intention toresign. He spent his final years based in Jena, butcontinuing his active career as a composer and as aconcert performer. He died in Leipzig in May 1916 onhis way back from a concert tour 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. ACatholic 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 of KarlStraube, also a pupil of Riemann and from 1902 organistat the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
Reger's Organ Sonata in D minor, Op. 60, waswritten in 1901 and dedicated to Martin Krause, a manwho had played for Liszt and was in touch with Liszt'scircle during the last three years of the latter's life. Hefounded the Liszt Society in Leipzig, and taught inDresden and Munich, before his appointment to theStern Conservatory in Berlin. The first movement,Improvisation, has a recurrent motif, heard in theopening bars. There is a briefly contrasting section,which returns before the recapitulation, marked by thereturn of the opening figure, leading to a final stretto andcoda. The second movement, Invocation, marked Gravecon duolo and, parenthetically, doch nicht schleppend(but not dragging), opens with characteristic harmonicambiguity and the chromatic shifts of tonality typical ofReger's musical language. At the heart of the movementis a rapider section, before a final Andante sostenuto thatcontinues the initial air of mystery. The last movementis an Introduction and Fugue, opening Allegrissimoassai and leading to the final fugue, marked Allegroenergico. The subject appears first in the alto, followedby entries in the soprano, bass and tenor, as the fugaltexture is further developed. A passage of rapid thirds isfollowed by a final exploration of the fugal subject andan emphatic conclusion.
The Twelve Organ Pieces, Op. 65, were written in1902. The seventh of the set, the Prelude in D minor,starts with a gentle Vivace, interrupted by a Maestosopassage, that is to return, followed by a tender Andante,and the return of the Vivace, leading to a triumphantconclusion. The D major Fugue is marked Vivacissimoand allows the four voices to enter in descending order,after the statement of the cheerful fugal subject. Varioustechnical contrapuntal devices are used, includingstretto, as the subject enters in overlapping voices, andthe piece ends over a sustained tonic pedal note. Theninth piece, Canzone, in E flat major and markedAndante sostenuto (ma con moto), gently unwinds.
There is a contrasting central section with tripletrhythms, before the return of a version of the openingmelody. This is followed by a D minor Scherzo, markedPrestissimo, framing a modulating trio section. The setends with an E minor Toccata, marked Allegro con brio,with the elaborate figuration expected of the traditionalform. There follows an E major Fugue, with thedirection Andante con moto. Here the subject appearsfirst in the left hand, answered in the tenor register,followed by alto and soprano, before the final entry onthe pedals. Once again Reger uses the inherited technicalarmoury in his treatment of the material, with a newaccompanied subject treated fugally before both subjectsare combined in the final section.
Reger's Chorale Fantasia on 'Wachet auf, ruft unsdie Stimme' (Sleepers, awake) is the second of a set ofthree such works, dating from 1900. The fantasia isdedicated to Karl Straube, and opens with anIntroduction marked Grave assai, which, unexpectedly,makes no overt reference to the chorale melody. Thismakes its eventual appearance above the semiquavertexture. The second verse of the chorale is given to amiddle voice, with triplet accompanying figuration. Thewords Ihr Freund kommt vom Himmel prachtig (Thyfriend comes from Heaven in splendour) brings adynamic climax, ended by the tranquil Adagio conespressione at the words Nun komm, du werte Kron(Now come, thou worthy King, Lord Jesus God's son).
The final Allegro vivace four-voice fugue has a subjectderived from the chorale. Into this Reger introduces thethird verse of the chorale, Gloria sei dir gesungen(Glory to thee be sung), in the pedals, with theregistration calling for the use of the resounding 32-footstop and mounting to a grandiose and massive finalHalleluja.Keith Anderson