David's Review Corner
, February 2009
In Naxos’s organ series this cycle of Rheinberger sonatas is one of its jewels, the eighth volume arriving with the sadness of being the final installment. Born in Liechtenstein and living to the age of 62, his career stretched back to the age of six when he was appointed a local church organist. That allowed time to achieved much, particularly as composition teacher at the Munich Conservatoire where his pupils included Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari and Furtwangler. As a composer he is only remembered for his organ compositions, and in particular for the twenty sonatas which were conceived as symphonies in both length and stature. The final two were written in the two years leading to his death in 1901, and show a composer at the height of his powers. In the long finale to the Nineteenth, you find his mastery of creating a movement from so many diverse parts, the final moments comparable to the conclusion of a Bruckner symphony. The Twentieth is subtitled ‘Zur Friedensfeier’ (For a Peace Celebration),though apart from the peace of the third movement Pastorale, it is a score of fulsome beauty, the finale conveying the feel of music for a formal ceremony. The disc is completed by a Prelude and Fugue in C minor dating from his student days, the thematic material rather lacking immediate attraction. Throughout the series, the German-born organist, Wolfgang Rubsam, has been our unfailingly steersman through the composer’s many moods, his playing fluid and mightily impressive when projecting the music’s weight. The Rieger-Sauer organ at Fulda Cathedral in Germany is a wonderful beast that has no problem in meeting the composer’s massive dynamic range. The venue records well, clarity still retained when Rubsam is thundering through pages black with notes.