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Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, September 2009

The characteristics of this series, both of Rheinberger’s music and Rübsam’s performances, are well known by now—they’re outlined in my review of Volume 6 last year. Like the earlier works, the two sonatas on the new CD have moments of what the notes refer to as ‘a bold and virtuosic style’ but they don’t make for instant gratification. They may not now be ranked as highly as they were in the 1904 edition of Grove’s Dictionary, where they were hailed as ‘undoubtedly the most valuable addition to organ music since the time of Mendelssohn’. They do, however, benefit from repeated hearings and they benefit from Rübsam’s undemonstrative but effective playing, with plenty of power behind it where appropriate.

Interpolated between the two Sonatas on this recording are two shorter works with Bach connections. The very key of the Prelude and Fugue in d minor (tracks 4-5) is suggestive of Bachian influence, though now, of course, the weight of scholarly opinion is against JS’s authorship of the work in that key, BWV565. (One wonders what unknown composer of that age could have composed it and what undiscovered masterpieces he may have written.) Though a student work and, as Keith Anderson’s notes point out, ‘couched in the familiar idiom of German organ music’, it’s well worth hearing; he had been, after all, something of a child genius, so it’s by no means put to shame in the company of the later music. In fact, it’s only the Prelude which is in d minor—the ensuing Fugue is in the major key.

I was less taken by the six Monologues—they do have their moments of languor—but, as this is the only currently available recording of them, their presence on the CD is certainly justifiable. The sixth piece, Largo espressivo, in b (tr.11) is based on the chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden which Bach employs in the St Matthew Passion and in many other places; you’ll have to listen very attentively, however—the theme is ‘hidden’ in a pedal part around which the manuals weave some delicate ornamentation.

As before, Wolfgang Rübsam makes a good case for all the music here and the versatile Fulda Cathedral instrument ably assists, as do the engineers, who create a credible sound-picture. With notes of the usual high quality from Keith Anderson and the full specification of the organ, this makes a worthy successor to the previous volumes.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

We have reached the seventh volume of Joseph Rheinberger’s complete works for organ, the only part of his vast output that remains in the repertoire. A child prodigy of such immense talent that at the age of four he had become his local church organist, he started composing before studying at the Munich Conservatoire when he was just thirteen, but later destroyed everything he had composed before the age of twenty. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Sonatas, written in 1894 and 1897, were conceived in symphonic proportions typical of the romantic era, the weight of texture in the Seventeenth’s finale a most exhilarating experience. The Eighteenth contains a mercurial second movement calling for a brilliant show of virtuoso dexterity. I don’t know why Naxos has split the twelve Monologues into two groups of six played on separate discs, maybe they were thought of insufficient consequence to play as a whole. It is a view with which I fully concur, but the disc does give us the D minor Prelude and Fugue that continues where the sonatas leave off. The whole series is performed by the distinguished German-born organist, Wolfgang Rubsam, his playing having that stamp of authority in each work. The weight of his concept is much helped by the superb Rieger-Sauer instrument at Fulda Cathedral in Germany. It is a wonderful beast of an organ that must take some handling, though Rubsam certainly draws the very best from it. The venue records well, the mix of weight and clarity making for a thrilling disc.

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