About this Recording
8.557186 - REGER, M.: Organ Works, Vol. 5 - Organ Sonata No. 2 / 12 Organ Pieces / Chorale Fantasia on Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (S. Frank)
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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 the example and enthusiasm of his father, a schoolmaster and amateur musician, and his early training to the town organist of Weiden, Adalbert Lindner. Reger was born in 1873 at Brand in the Upper Palatinate, Bavaria. The following year the family moved to Weiden and it was there that he spent his childhood and adolescence, embarking on a course of training as a teacher when he left school. Lindner had sent examples of Reger’s early compositions to his own former teacher, Hugo Riemann, who accepted Reger as a pupil, at first in Sondershausen and then, as his assistant, in Wiesbaden. Military service, which affected Reger’s health and spirits, was followed by a period at home with his parents in Weiden and a continuing series of compositions, in particular for the organ, including a monumental series of chorale fantasias and other compositions, often, it seems, designed to challenge the technique of his friend Karl Straube, a noted performer of Reger’s organ music.

In 1901 Reger moved to Munich, where he spent the next six years. His position in musical life was in some ways an uneasy one, since he was seen as a champion 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 was gradually able to find an audience for his music. The period in Munich brought the composition of his Sinfonietta, of chamber music, and of fine sets of keyboard variations on themes by Bach and Beethoven, followed in later years by his well-known variations on a theme by Mozart.

1907 brought a change in Reger’s life, when he took the position of professor of composition at the University of Leipzig, at a time when his music was reaching a much wider public. This was supported by his own distinction as a performer and concert appearances in London, St Petersburg, the Netherlands, and Austria, and throughout Germany. In 1911 he was invited by the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen to become conductor of the court orchestra, an ensemble established by Hans von Bülow and once conducted by Richard Strauss, at the outset of his career. Reger held this position until the beginning of the war, when the orchestra was disbanded, an event that coincided with his own earlier intention to resign. He spent his final years based in Jena, but continuing his active career as a composer and as a concert performer. He died in Leipzig in May 1916 on his way back from a concert tour of the Netherlands.

The music of Max Reger has a special position in organ repertoire, and he is regarded by many as the greatest German composer of organ music since Bach. A Catholic himself, he nevertheless drew on Lutheran tradition and the rich store of chorales, the inspiration for chorale preludes, chorale fantasias and other works. The esteem in which his organ compositions were held even in his own time owed much to the advocacy of Karl Straube, also a pupil of Riemann and from 1902 organist at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

Reger’s Organ Sonata in D minor, Op. 60, was written in 1901 and dedicated to Martin Krause, a man who had played for Liszt and was in touch with Liszt’s circle during the last three years of the latter’s life. He founded the Liszt Society in Leipzig, and taught in Dresden and Munich, before his appointment to the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. The first movement, Improvisation, has a recurrent motif, heard in the opening bars. There is a briefly contrasting section, which returns before the recapitulation, marked by the return of the opening figure, leading to a final stretto and coda. The second movement, Invocation, marked Grave con duolo and, parenthetically, doch nicht schleppend (but not dragging), opens with characteristic harmonic ambiguity and the chromatic shifts of tonality typical of Reger’s musical language. At the heart of the movement is a rapider section, before a final Andante sostenuto that continues the initial air of mystery. The last movement is an Introduction and Fugue, opening Allegrissimo assai and leading to the final fugue, marked Allegro energico. The subject appears first in the alto, followed by entries in the soprano, bass and tenor, as the fugal texture is further developed. A passage of rapid thirds is followed by a final exploration of the fugal subject and an emphatic conclusion.

The Twelve Organ Pieces, Op. 65, were written in 1902. The seventh of the set, the Prelude in D minor, starts with a gentle Vivace, interrupted by a Maestoso passage, that is to return, followed by a tender Andante, and the return of the Vivace, leading to a triumphant conclusion. The D major Fugue is marked Vivacissimo and allows the four voices to enter in descending order, after the statement of the cheerful fugal subject. Various technical contrapuntal devices are used, including stretto, as the subject enters in overlapping voices, and the piece ends over a sustained tonic pedal note. The ninth piece, Canzone, in E flat major and marked Andante sostenuto (ma con moto), gently unwinds. There is a contrasting central section with triplet rhythms, before the return of a version of the opening melody. This is followed by a D minor Scherzo, marked Prestissimo, framing a modulating trio section. The set ends with an E minor Toccata, marked Allegro con brio, with the elaborate figuration expected of the traditional form. There follows an E major Fugue, with the direction Andante con moto. Here the subject appears first in the left hand, answered in the tenor register, followed by alto and soprano, before the final entry on the pedals. Once again Reger uses the inherited technical armoury in his treatment of the material, with a new accompanied subject treated fugally before both subjects are combined in the final section.

Reger’s Chorale Fantasia on ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ (Sleepers, awake) is the second of a set of three such works, dating from 1900. The fantasia is dedicated to Karl Straube, and opens with an Introduction marked Grave assai, which, unexpectedly, makes no overt reference to the chorale melody. This makes its eventual appearance above the semiquaver texture. The second verse of the chorale is given to a middle voice, with triplet accompanying figuration. The words Ihr Freund kommt vom Himmel prächtig (Thy friend comes from Heaven in splendour) brings a dynamic climax, ended by the tranquil Adagio con espressione 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 subject derived from the chorale. Into this Reger introduces the third verse of the chorale, Gloria sei dir gesungen (Glory to thee be sung), in the pedals, with the registration calling for the use of the resounding 32-foot stop and mounting to a grandiose and massive final Halleluja.

Keith Anderson

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