Reger: Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue; Seven Organ Pieces

COMPOSERS: Reger
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Reger
WORKS: Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue; Seven Organ Pieces
PERFORMER: Edgar Krapp
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557891
Max Reger’s organ music is not for everyone, but there’s no doubt of the imposing nature of his invention and the fascinating polyphonic skill with which he negotiates and chastens a harmonic idiom so nearly over-ripe it takes the instrument to its limits. This latest volume in Naxos’s survey features one of his most impressive pieces – the Symphonic Fantasia and Fugue from 1901, which Reger thought to be his technically most difficult work. The ‘symphonic’ epithet well suits its monumental structures, and the dissonance and rhythmic complexity of the pugnacious Fantasia show Reger at his most intense.

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The other work here was among his last, the curious collection of Seven Pieces which reflect their date of composition, 1915-16, in the midst of the Great War. While four of them reflect lyrically or dramatically on the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Whit, with well-known psalm or chorale tunes skilfully woven into the texture, there’s an opening Trauerode in memory of the dead, a Dankpsalm dedicated to the German people, and a slightly appalling concluding Siegesfeier (Victory Celebration) that culminates in a solemn rendition of Deutschland über Alles. Shorn of its historical context this remains undeniably fascinating stuff, excellently expounded by Edgar Krapp at the organ of Passau Cathedral. His brilliant playing of the Fantasia and Fugue is matched by his sensitivity in the less bombastic of the Seven Pieces, and the recording is first-rate. Calum MacDonald