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William J Gatens
American Record Guide, March 2011

Readers who have been collecting this series will not be disappointed with the latest installment.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Malcolm Riley
Gramophone, January 2011

Contrasting preludes, fugues and fantasias on a characterful instrument

Reger’s monumentally demanding series of chorale fantasias is surely the towering crown of late-Romantic German organ music. With their writhingly post-Brahmsian labyrinths of counterpoint, bursts of Teutonic bombast and exhausting extremes of dynamic and tempo, these robust examples of “absolute” music require a calming antidote, which is why the 52 Easy Chorale Preludes, Op 67, make such a welcome contrast. While not all of the 14 Preludes recorded here are top-drawer Reger, his assured workmanship produces several inspired treatments, for example in the sinewy solidity of No 49, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, and the sparkling elaboration of No 44, Was Gott tut.

The two Preludes and Fugues are well contrasted. That in G sharp minor is especially beguiling, the Prelude’s opening searching and tentative, its Fugue built on an equally enigmatic subject. Martin Welzel keeps everything moving along smoothly in the E minor Prelude and Fugue, too. Trier Cathedral’s Klais organ copes magnificently with the wide range of tonal colours and quick changes demanded by this most fastidious of composers. This is an instrument of great character: firm diapason foundations, fragrant flutes, piquant mixtures and acidic string ranks.

The concluding Chorale Fantasia on “Freu dich sehr” bursts in with a confident flourish before we are treated to an exhaustive exploration of the chorale melody in a series of variations. Welzel’s performances of this (and everything else on the disc) are persuasive, sensitive and winsome. The Trier acoustic is beautifully captured and the supporting documentation everything one could wish for.

David Vernier, October 2010

The first thing you're likely to notice when you listen to this Volume 10 in Naxos' traversal of the organ works of Max Reger is how agreeable is the sound of this instrument, how well designed and compatible the array of stops - and of course how masterfully organist Martin Welzel employs them in the varied selections performed in this thoughtfully programmed recital. A look at the specifications of the Johannes Klais organ at Trier Cathedral, which Welzel plays here (built in 1974), shows it to be a kind of 4-manual cousin to the 3-manual cathedral organ at Wesel (built by Wilhelm Sauer), which was the instrument on which Karl Straube famously promoted Reger's works in the latter years of the 19th century. The numerous color stops, the string-type flues, and the finely-voiced reeds, such as the Schalmey, give this instrument a character that's ideal for exploiting Reger's often highly chromatic, intricately textured works. (Johannes Klais is one of the most respected and revered organ building firms in Germany - a family operation founded in the 19th century that today builds organs all over the world.)

Yes, Reger is touted as "the greatest German composer of organ music since Bach", and that is certainly arguable, but stylistically, he also didn't progress very far from the great master, which I suppose is not such a bad thing for Bach fans looking for a formidable and trustworthy disciple. While the chorale preludes are very satisfying tributes to Bach's definitive creations, the two preludes and fugues are significant, original repertoire pieces in their own right, as is the fantasia on "Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele" that closes the program. Welzel is fabulous, his commanding key- and pedal-board presence, his facile legato, and confident, clear articulation reminding us of why we are always so awed by the skills of this unique breed of instrumentalist.

And speaking of awe, for those who care about such things, the site of this recording, Trier Cathedral, is of great historical significance, as is the town of Trier. Both the cathedral, which dates back to the time of Constantine, and the town itself are the oldest in Germany, the town dating to before the time of Christ. Trier was one of the important seats of Roman church and state power and influence in the Middle Ages, playing a role in the intrigue and monumental struggles in the early Christian church during the 4th century. This is the sort of recording that encourages you to look into such things - but even at its most basic level it lifts your spirit while urging you to turn up the volume and simply revel in Reger's music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

Helping his father rebuild a discarded organ first sparked Max Reger’s interest in music, though it was hearing Wagner that finally pointed him towards composition. Born in 1873, a compulsory period of army service left him in poor health, and on his return to music, he was seen as reactionary and not universally welcome. For the organ his works were uneven, the Fifty-two Easy Choral Preludes really little more than music to fill gaps in a church service, and carrying the name of a lesser composer they would probably never be heard. Neither are the two Preludes and Fugues among his greatest scores, but the Choral Fantasia on ‘Freu dich sehr, o mein Seeie’, (Rejoice greatly, O my soul)—the longest work on the disc—is a brooding score, that eventually builds to a powerful conclusion. This the tenth volume of Reger’s complete organ works and comes from German-born, Martin Welzel, at the Johannes Klais organ in Trier Cathedral, the organist already contributing two previous discs. As I said at the time, I find him at home when the music’s temperature rises, as in the final work. In all complete recordings you have to accept everything, and for Reger enthusiasts this is an imperative purchase of seldom performed scores. I had to turn up my volume level a great deal for the music to come alive, then all was well.

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