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Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, March 2008

"The Naxos series of Rheinberger’s Organ Works, performed by Wolfgang Rübsam, is proceeding sporadically. The first volume was issued in 2000 and Volume 5 was reviewed here on Musicweb as long ago as March 2004, when it received a general welcome (see review). There must still be two volumes to go before the series of twenty Organ Sonatas is completed. The slowness of the enterprise cannot be laid at the door of reviewers, since all the volumes to date have received generally encouraging reviews."

"I hesitate to use such terms as ‘heavyweight’ and ‘cerebral’ for fear of putting readers off. Rheinberger’s music may not be as overtly exciting as the warhorses of some of his French contemporaries, but it certainly has its exciting moments – which is what the headnote presumably means by ‘virtuosic’. To take the first movement of Sonata No.14 as an example, both the music and the playing may seem rather tame at first, with Rübsam scrupulously maintaining what the notes describe as the important rhythmic figure in the opening maestoso. Even the fugue which follows is comparatively restrained, with Rübsam carefully following the poco in the direction poco più mosso, but when the opening theme and maestoso tempo reappear in the coda, he grasps with both hands and feet the opportunity which Rheinberger and the Fulda organ offer him to let rip."

"The second movement, a charming Idyll, receives an appropriately delicate performance, dream-like at times, though with moments when Rübsam takes the opportunity to open up in mid-movement. As the movement dies away to near-inaudibility, one could not ask for greater delicacy. The Toccata Finale offers opportunities both for some delicate playing and for a blazing climax; organ and organist are again fully up to the task. I defy anyone other than positive organ-haters not to be moved by the music and the performance of this movement. The sonata as a whole runs through a variety of moods, from the truly affecting to the grandiose."

"The Fulda organ is weighty as the full specification given in the booklet, albeit in German only, makes plain. No history of the organ is given – presumably this was included in the notes to earlier volumes – but it is clear that the instrument is well suited to the whole, wide range of Rheinberger’s music. First built in 1713 by Adam Öhninger, it was reconstructed in 1877 by Sauer. The rebuild by Rieger Orgelbau, 1994-96, has enhanced its capabilities – more than half of the stops in the specification are listed as new – but left it as basically a splendid example of a ‘romantic organ’."

"Rübsam is not a showy organist; like his former doctoral student Julia Brown in her contributions to Naxos’s complete Buxtehude organ music, he is content to take his time and let the music breathe in a way more appropriate to Rheinberger than to Buxtehude. His playing is always in tune with the varied moods of the music."

"The recording is good throughout, impressively wide-ranging, with the ambience of the building well captured, but never allowed to muddy the sound. On earlier volumes Rübsam is credited as producer, engineer and editor, as he is on the Naxos Buxtehude recordings – quite an achievement."

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

They say all good things are worth waiting for, and Naxos are certainly taking their time over this on-going series of Rheinberger’s organ works, the only part of his vast output that still remains in the repertoire. He was one of life’s gifted prodigies who was appointed organist of his local church at the age of 4. Trained at the Munich Conservatoire at the age of 13, he later destroyed all of the music composed before he was twenty. His early career was more slanted to conducting and teaching, returning at the age of 28 to the Conservatoire as composition teacher, a post that he held until his death in 1901 at the age of 62. Composed in the early 1890’s, the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Organ Sonatas have a complexity of texture that creates a feel of romantic warmth that would be continued by Richard Strauss. I have at times commented that his music lacks thematic material of the real quality, but here it abounds, each of the sonatas in three movements that stop not far short of half an hour. You only have to go as far as the second track, the Idyll from the Fourteenth to experience the sublime beauty that Rheinberger could create. In shape they are largely in the form of quick and outgoing music surrounding a slow central movement, often calling for adroit playing and an ability to pile layer upon layer while maintaining inner clarity. As throughout the series, the soloist is the distinguished German-born organist, Wolfgang Rubsam, and here we find him in exceptional form his playing fluid and obviously revelling in the weighty music. He has the fine Rieger-Sauer instrument at Fulda Cathedral in Germany, a massive and wonderful beast of an organ that can give Rheinberger a massive dynamic range. The venue records well, the weight of sound retaining much clarity.

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