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Reger was much enamoured of organs built by Wilhelm Sauer and the family dynasty begun by Johann Eberhard Walcker, extolling them as ‘such works of splendour… equipped with every possi- ble refinement’. Max Schmeding’s choice of a baker’s dozen such instruments adds particular piquancy to his complete survey of the compos er’s organ music.

Begun as recently as 2014, Schmeding’s is the latest intégrale offering in Reger’s centenary year and joins an increasingly crowded catalogue that will soon boast six or so new complete surveys, all feverishly vying for attention alongside Rosalinde Haas’s pacy, late-1990s’ compendium on MDG.

Of interest here is the superior recorded sound: the 5.1 SACD surround sound complemented by a two-channel ‘3D’ binaural layer that makes listening on headphones a vivid experience. (Several sections of the substantial booklet are as informative for audiophiles as the detailed notes on the music are informative for the general listener.)

The sheer scale of the 17-CD set (the final volume is a discussion, in German, between Schmeding and Mirjam Wiesemann) is daunting. If you want to gauge Reger’s journey from relative simplicity to the gargantuan and complex later works, be warned: attempting to pick your way through chronologically will involve a lot of disc changing.

But listened to in Schmeding’s thematically arranged sequence (which uses the new editions of the scores published by Carus Verlag), the developmental shiftis no less apparent and enhanced by the judicious selection of organs, whose technical advances in turn prompted Reger to richer and more virtuosic writing. The singular focus of the playing – intense yet intimate – is preferable to the recent multi-authored Naxos set. Beginning with a bold account of the debt-acknowledging Fantasy & Fugue on B-A-C-H, in which Reger’s own distinctive counterpoint is superbly realised, it concludes with what Schmeding describes as the ‘absolute music’ of the mighty Variations & Fugue on an Original Theme, delivered here with a becoming fleetness.

Schmeding shares something of Buttmann’s respectful reverence in the op.127 Introduction, Passacaglia & Fugue and op.135b Fantasy & Fugue but is more darkly interior and concentrated than Weinberger (CPO), and less buoyant than Demers (Acis) with the op.52 Choral Fantasies. He is also, generally, not as free as Dupont (Éditions Hortus), but overall shows a kinship with Ludger Lohmann’s subtlety and clarity (Naxos).

Lavishly illustrated with sepia and colour images, the 172-page booklet is generously filled with informative notes on the music by Schmeding, profiles of the individual organs, and useful articles on Cybele’s recording process.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2017 - ©Rhinegold Publishing