Max Reger’s (not so) Easy Pieces

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Take these work titles with a grain of salt, for Reger’s Op. 67 Chorale Preludes and Op. 56 Preludes and Fugues are not all that easy to play. Yet their relatively modest scale might appeal to listeners curious about Reger’s organ music but not wishing to dive headfirst into epic Regerian behemoths like the Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue or the Symphonic Fantasy and Fugue.

Rather than presenting all five Preludes and Fugues in succession, Josef Still opens with the first two, closes with the final three, and places the first 15 Chorale Preludes in the middle of the program. This helps to create and sustain a program full of varied textures and moods, abetted by the organist’s colorful registrations and excellent contrapuntal acumen. He generally favors slower tempos, in comparison to Rosalinde Haas, whose complete Reger cycle for MDG remains the version of reference.

Sometimes this works in her favor; for example, compare Haas’ exuberant take on the Chorale Prelude Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott with Still’s relatively square reading. On the other hand, his quicker pace for the G major Prelude is more in keeping with Reger’s Andante directive than Haas’ more expansive traversal, yet here the slower tempo allows the subtle chromatic harmonies to register more firmly in the ear. And in the D minor Fugue, Still does not bring out the dynamic contrasts between the first and second keyboard manuals so clearly as Haas.

Yet his steadiness and sobriety often pay off handsomely, as the B minor Fugue demonstrates. By taking Reger’s carefully mapped-out dynamic trajectory on faith, Still imparts just the right unsettled air to the hushed exposition, and pulls out all the stops (pun definitely intended!) in the climactic final pages without dragging the pulse that he’s kept rock steady from the start. The production values of Wolfgang Rübsam (no mean organist himself) do ample justice to the Johannes Klais Organ in Trier Cathedral and, of course, to Still’s admirable musicianship.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Organ Works, Vol. 14
Reference Recording: Complete Organ Works: Haas (MDG)

    52 Easy Chorale Preludes on the most common Protestant chorales Op. 67 Nos. 1-15; Five Easily Performable Preludes & Fugues Op. 56
  • Josef Still (organ)

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