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This attractively programmed double CD from the young French-Canadian organist Isabelle Demers anthologises Reger’s seven Chorale Fantasias, and serves as a fundraiser for FASO – the Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1024, an historic instrument purchased from the University of Texas in Austin, and translated to St Andrew’s, Amarillo. The set also includes Heinrich Reimann’s 1895 setting of Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, which provided Reger with the inspiration to write fantasias over chorales divided into verses. ‘The salvation for our organ style lies precisely in the use and treatment of the old hymn!’ he declared in a letter to Reimann in 1898 after studying the score intensively, having already embarked on two explorations of the Chorale Fantasia, in his opp. 27 and 30; Reger was Catholic, but his uncommon familiarity with the Protestant texts and melodies – ‘They don’t know what they have in their chorales!’ – came from the fact that his home town church of St Michael in Weiden served both denominations. Anyone familiar with Demers’s playing will know that the so-called ‘diminutive dynamo’ of Quebec specialises in articulation, and drawing colour out of the music. While this serves her well in Wachet auf! and Hallelujah! Gott zu loben in the dry-ish acoustics of St Andrew’s, the approach is much less successful in Ein feste Burg, where the smoothly majestic unfolding of the great tune, and its subsequent, magnificently developed contrapuntal iterations are given a frenetic and, to these ears, rhythmically uneven seeing-to redolent of the performer’s ‘vehement virtuosity’, as described by La Presse in Montreal. Modified rapture, then.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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