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Naxos began its long-running Reger survey in 1998 with Bernard Haas at the Link Organ of the Evangelical Church of Giengen an der Brenz. Since then, the series has visited churches and cathedrals all over Germany, entrusting the music to other established players such as Ludger Lohmann and Edgar Krapp as well as newer talents. Now Lohmann protégé Christian Barthen produces and performs his own recording of the Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, op.29, the Monologues, op.63 nos.7-12, and the Sonata no.1 in F sharp minor, op.33, on one of south Germany’s largest organs: the IV/93 Steinmeyer (1911) organ of the Christuskirche, Mannheim, dubbed the ‘Mannheimer Wunderwerk’ by Karg-Elert. So we’re in Reger’s own soundworld, and the menu is meaty, with the highly Bachian op.29 (dedicated to Richard Strauss) and the op.33 Sonata (dedicated to Liszt’s ‘legendary cantor’, Alexander Wilhelm Gottschalg) with its liberal quotes from Liszt’s organ works and extended Passacaglia. The selection of Monologues includes the substantial Fantasia in C major, and the Toccata & Fugue in E minor. Barthen performs all of these works with style and aplomb – a name to watch.

Bordeaux Cathedral organist Jean-Baptiste Dupont’s Reger survey is itinerant, taking in large, flexible organs for the ‘big’ works and more narrowly Reger-Zeit instruments for the medium- and small-scale works – his well-received double-CD vol.1 was recorded on recent Schuke organs in Kaliningrad and Magdeburg, and a 1904 Walcker in Ulm. For vol.2 he touches down in Dudelange to perform the Zwolf Stücke, op.50 and the Fantasy & Fugue in C minor, op.29 on the III/82 Stahlhuth/ Jann instrument (1912/2012) in St Martin’s Church. Opus 50 is a particularly satisfying two-volume collection split into ‘free’ works including the well-known D minor Toccata & Fugue, and a group of ‘liturgical’ pieces – Gloria, Benedictus, Te Deum – partly inspired by Gregorian chant. Dupont’s response to the famously knotty Regerian problems of tempo, phrasing and dynamics is to adopt an admirably holistic approach, taking into account the music, the organ, and the host building’s acoustics, but always aiming at maximum clarity for the listener. Here, the recorded sound spectrum is notably rich and deep, bringing Dupont’s highly nuanced and expressive playing into sharp focus. Under William Whitehead’s artistic direction, this Reger edition is proving eminently collectable.

Not so long ago in ‘complete Reger organ on CD’-land, all you could get was Rosalinde Haas’s terrifyingly fast interpretations collected in a box set on the MDG label. Now the record stores are awash with them, not least because Reger’s centenary beckons in 2016. An interesting and positive side effect of this orgy of recording is that the latest projects on the whole eschew modern neo-classical instruments, however versatile, and seek out ‘authentic’ instruments from Reger’s time: people are listening to often unfamiliar and sometimes neglected organs with fresh ears. And mirabile dictu, in the case of Bernhard Buttmann’s gesamt, the whole enterprise kicks offwith a benediction from a politician – no lesser a figure than the Bavarian minister of ‘Science, Research and Art’.

Oehms Classics and their co-producers at Bavarian Radio are planning the cycle in four box sets to appear by 2016. The approach to the music is chronological, and Bernhard Buttman (director of music at Nuremberg’s oldest church, St Sebald) performs his vol.1 programmes on the Walcker/Sauer organ of the Marktkirche, Wiesbaden, the Maerz organ of St Rupert, Munich, the Max-Reger organ of St Michael, Weiden (Reger’s home town), and the Steinmeyer organ of St Blasius, Weiler im Allgäu. The chronological approach is illuminating: after the journeyman op.7 pieces comes the pioneering leap of the Suite in E minor, op.16, then the massive ripple when Reger and his partner-in-crime, the virtuoso organist Karl Straube, comprehensively bombed the pond of the conservative German music world with his ‘Ein feste Burg’ Fantasy, op.27; as the notes tell us, ‘Ability and the will are now in balance; the old and the new have achieved a synthesis.’ Along the way there are less familiar delights, such as the un-opused Variations on ‘Heil, unserm König, Heil’ in which the listener is distracted by an insanely distant-key tour d’horizon (of which Vierne might have been proud) before the deadpan introduction of the familiar ‘God save our gracious King’ melody and a bout of increasingly assured Regerian theme-wrangling, limited only by the innate dullness of the tune. Buttman has a very relaxed playing style which confidently absorbs the technical challenges of the big works – never over-egging the climaxes – while keeping a light and sensitive hand on the smaller works and chorale preludes: complex or contained, in a sober manner, he simply lets Reger’s music unfold. Richly recorded on these lovely organs by the Rundfunk engineers, Oehms’s good-value vol.1 box set bodes well for an unusually absorbing experience as we follow Reger on his compositional journey. And Martin Weyer’s excellent liner notes contain something rarely found in Regerology – jokes.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing