John E. Roos
, June 2007
The Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue opens with a violent fury, building to a quick climax, punctuated by chords and keyboard runs before diminishing into a calm meditation-all within the first minute. Throughout this 10-minute Fantasia, the music swells and diminishes, from climax to serenity. Edgar Krapp brings this off superbly. Max Reger considered his op. 57 the most difficult music he ever wrote, but Krapp never breaks a sweat. He has mastered this music and knows every nuance. He lets all the stops out in the Passau Cathedral in Eisenbarth, Germany, making no apologies for the intensity or force of the music. At times he seems carried away in a kind of divine madness, reveling in every decibel. The effect is exciting and dramatic. But the Fugue has a different character, and is not as successful, hampered by Reger's penchant for thick writing. In the Fantasia (and throughout most of this recording), the sound captured by the Naxos engineers is vivid, clear, and even spectacular. But the Fugue is a little muddled. Yet every climax is captured superbly; Reger—and Krapp—emerge in triumph as if through the clouds. This is a mighty work that deserves to be heard more often.
Reger wrote his seven organ pieces in 1915-16, in the midst of World War 1. These pieces are dedicated to key moments in the liturgical year; yet the war clearly lingered in Reger's mind as he wrote. One senses sadness during the first piece, which was dedicated to those who died in battle. The second piece is a psalm of thanks, titled, "What God does, that is well done." Dedicated to the German people, this too has dark moments and builds to a treatment of the familiar hymn, Praise to the Lord the Almighty. As this title indicates, there is a sense of recognition of God's sovereignty at a time of war. But even in moments of triumph, there is a haunting touch of uncertainty. This is great music.
The piece focuses on Christmas, and Reger incorporates familiar choruses, including Silent Night. This, too, has a dark hue; everything is not quite so "calm and bright." The fourth part focuses on the passion of Christ. The fifth celebrates his resurrection with a form much more like a chorale. The sixth celebrates the Holy Ghost. Fleet keyboard runs are woven into a strong, declaratory conclusion. The seventh is a victory celebration, highlighted by Reger's adaptation of the hymn, Now thank we all our God (with Deutschland, Deutschland über alles ringing in the pedals). Some may feel that this uncomfortably mixes politics with music, but this did not bother me, and I found it to be stirring music, and highly enjoyable.
This is Volume 7 in the Naxos collection of the organ music of Reger, and the first that features Krapp. All of the recordings in this series that I have heard have been outstanding. This one is too. Highly recommended.