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Rheinberger Sonatas


Nick Bennett
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I thought I ought to learn some Rheinberger sonatas.  Which are the best?  Which are the least difficult?

 

 

 

I suppose No 8 with the wonderful final Passacaglia is an obvious one to start with. (This movement works well on its own if introduced by the opening Praeludium, which then re-appears at the end, sandwich-fashion).

 

The trouble with Rheinberger is finding a sonata which has all movements of comparable quality: all too often they are let down by an over-sugary intermezzo or turgid final fugue. For my money Number Two is one of the best in the respect with good, muscular outer movements and tolerable Adagio espressivo in between.

 

The main thing of course is to avoid the dreadful old Harvey Grace edition with its wholesale tampering with note values etc and unhelpful registration indications. Above all it needs to be played with passion and conviction if it is to avoid the all too frequent charge of being insipid on the one hand or laboured on the other.

 

I reckon Wolfgang Rübsam's recording of the complete sonatas on Naxos is an object lesson in how to tackle Rheinberger - and wonderful value at around £1 per sonata.

 

JS

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I suppose No 8 with the wonderful final Passacaglia is an obvious one to start with.  (This movement works well on its own if introduced by the opening Praeludium, which then re-appears at the end, sandwich-fashion).

 

The trouble with Rheinberger is finding a sonata which has all movements of comparable quality: all too often they are let down by an over-sugary intermezzo or turgid final fugue.  For my money Number Two is one of the best in the respect with good, muscular outer movements and tolerable Adagio espressivo in between.

 

The main thing of course is to avoid the dreadful old Harvey Grace edition with its wholesale tampering with note values etc and unhelpful registration indications.  Above all it needs to be played with passion and conviction if it is to avoid the all too frequent charge of being insipid on the one hand or laboured on the other.

 

I reckon Wolfgang Rübsam's recording of the complete sonatas on Naxos is an object lesson in how to tackle Rheinberger - and wonderful value at around £1 per sonata.

 

JS

 

 

I heartily endorse John's comments above.

 

To answer your question: A good place to start might well be with Sonata no.1 in C minor. I can recommend this one as worth the work. It's pretty solid and well-written without getting either too tedious (which I how I find much Rheinberger) or to use John's word 'sugary'! It also finishes well and impressively - even on a modest instrument.

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I've just had a bash through the ones I have (the only movement I actually play being the afore-mentioned Passacaglia, which is indeed wonderful; the Scherzo isn't half bad either).

 

No. 4 is not too difficult and lies under the fingers well - anyone who is up to speed with their FRCO tests ahould be able to sight-read the whole thing (I almost managed it - but it's a good thing no one was listening!) I thought the first movement excellent - strongly constructed and satisfying - and the slow movement bearable (though as a teenager it would have sent me running for the sick bag). The final Chromatic Fugue seemed very turgid to start with, but gathered interest and momentum as it went on - though what it's like to listen to might be another story. All quite fun to play though.

 

I've a sneaking liking (though I probably shouldn't have) for the Cantilène from Sonata no.11. Classic FM did it to death a couple of years ago in an arrangement for cello and piano. I've no idea what the rest of that sonata is like.

 

Is there a recommended edition for Rheinberger? I've both the Novello (Harvey Grace) and Schott editions of No. 8. I'm not keen on the Novello for the reasons John mentions, but the Schott has a couple of obvious misprints (and how many not-so-obvious ones?) and unhelpful page turns.

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Is there a recommended edition for Rheinberger? I've both the Novello (Harvey Grace) and Schott editions of No. 8. I'm not keen on the Novello for the reasons John mentions, but the Schott has a couple of obvious misprints (and how many not-so-obvious ones?) and unhelpful page turns.

 

I'd like to recommend the Amadeus edition - accurate and well printed.

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I have a soft spot for nos 12 and 13. 12 is a rollocking good tune and 13 is a subject very like Down Ampney. I have the Harvey Grace editions with wonderful editorial prefaces explaining how Rheinberger is the god of harmony and counterpoint.

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I reckon Wolfgang Rübsam's recording of the complete sonatas on Naxos is an object lesson in how to tackle Rheinberger - and wonderful value at around £1 per sonata.
I remember these getting a very good review, but it was quite some time ago. I'm thinking of getting them, so I looked them up on the net and can find only five discs covering nos 1-13. Were the later sonatas ever released? Is this still an ongoing project?
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I remember these getting a very good review, but it was quite some time ago. I'm thinking of getting them, so I looked them up on the net and can find only five discs covering nos 1-13. Were the later sonatas ever released? Is this still an ongoing project?

 

According to Naxos, when I contacted them in November 1994, volume six was "likely to be realeased in 2005".

 

I contacted them again in April this year and was informed that nothing further had been heard about the release, and they could not provide me with any further information.

 

Hopefully it will arrive in due course - it would be shame if it didn't (not least because I'm particularly waiting for no. 14)

 

Also of interest is the Naxos release of Paul Skevington, with the Amadeus Orchestra conducted by Timothy Rowe, playing Rheinberger's two organ concertos on the Steiner-Reck at St. Luke's Catholic church in McLean, Virginia.

 

Tony

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Well I am getting to grips with the first movement of the second sonata. It's certainly good practice at reading flats! I've got the Amadeus edition.

 

It's good, but it does have the occasional weak moment. However, the last page is splendid - including a chord of B double flat major!

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Bardon Music have a web site that will allow you to download the first page of the music they publish. This includes the first eight Rheinberger sonatas. So you can try before you buy.

 

On the question of recordings, although the Rubsam set is unfinished there is a complete set by Rudolf Innig on CPO. Also, for my money, there is an excellent recording of number four by Christine Kamp playing the organ of the evangelical church in Hermannstadt on the Festivo label.

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I reckon Wolfgang Rübsam's recording of the complete sonatas on Naxos is an object lesson in how to tackle Rheinberger - and wonderful value at around £1 per sonata.

<Rant alert!>

 

I've just picked up all five of these CDs on ebay and, while I don't regret the purchase for one minute, I'm glad I didn't pay the RRP for them. Interpretation is a very individual thing, of course, but I'm afraid Rübsam doesn't do it for me. Unlike John, I find his playing positively bizarre. I'm all for flexibility and expressiveness in Romantic music, but surely Rübsam's continual "stop and start" style goes too far? It seems to me to be at the expense of the architecture and symphonic form. In particular I find his habit of systematically pausing before the first beat of the bar intensely irritating. Together with his ever changing tempos, these traits combine to destroy all sense of rhythm to the extent where, unless I already knew the movement in question I couldn't tell what on earth was going on. The opening of Sonata no.4 has always struck me as being like the first movement of a Brahms symphony, but can you ever imagine an orchestra playing it like Rübsam does? I'm sure the failing is mine since I've a sneaking feeling that Brahms, whose playing is said to have been so flexible and expressive that all sense of rhythm frequently disappeared, would heartily approve!

 

So my question is this: if I want a "straighter", yet still warmly expressive and Romantic interpretation of these pieces, whose set should I get? Innig's?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
if I want a "straighter", yet still warmly expressive and Romantic interpretation of these pieces, whose set should I get? Innig's?

 

Roge Fisher has recorded quite a bit of Rheinberger. He makes these pieces sound like seriously good repertoire (which IMHO it isn't always). Have others heard these interpretations?

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  • 2 weeks later...
Roge Fisher has recorded quite a bit of Rheinberger. He makes these pieces sound like seriously good repertoire (which IMHO it isn't always). Have others heard these interpretations?

 

 

Roger Fisher performed Sonatas 11-15 in the complete LP series recorded by Michael Smythe (were these reissued on CD a few years ago or have I just dreamt that up??) and also Nos 7and 8 for EMI at or around the time he recorded Chester in the Great Cathedral Organ Series. I thought these were very fine performances. Latterly he appears to be revisiting some of this repertoire with CD versions of No 6 (Martkirche, Wiesbaden), No 7 (Chichester Cathedral) and No 8 (Chester once again) all on the Amphion label. I have heard these but not all that often. My initial impression is that his interpretations have not altered radically over the years, in exactly the same way as his view of the Reubke Sonata now seems to be pretty close to the view he took back in the early 1970s, even down to the slamming on of the brakes at the end. But I cannot claim to have done the sort of sustained comparative listening necessary to turn general impressions into carefully considered opinions. Since both versions (of the Reubke) are available on the Amphion label anyone seriously interested is able to make their own comparisons.

 

Brian Childs

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I thought I ought to learn some Rheinberger sonatas.  Which are the best?  Which are the least difficult?

I'd like to put in a good word for the f-minor sonata. I think it's no.7. My copy is the Harvey Grace edition which is filled w/ excellent advice.

 

It's a really marvelous piece, w/ beautiful tunes just everywhere. Feels good under the fingers, too.

 

E.Power Biggs used to ply it. Suppose he must have studied it w/ G D Cunningham.

 

Karl Watson

Staten Island, NY

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  • 2 months later...
Guest Barry Williams
I'd like to put in a good word for the f-minor sonata.  I think it's no.7.  My copy is the Harvey Grace edition which is filled w/ excellent advice.

 

It's a really marvelous piece, w/ beautiful tunes just everywhere.  Feels good under the fingers, too.

 

E.Power Biggs used to ply it.  Suppose he must have studied it w/ G D Cunningham.

 

Karl Watson

Staten Island, NY

 

 

There is only one crescendo marking in the whole of the original scores of the sonatas. Did Rheinbeger write for an organ without a Swell box?

 

Barry Williams

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There is only one crescendo marking in the whole of the original scores of the sonatas.  Did Rheinbeger write for an organ without a Swell box?

 

Barry Williams

 

Yes. And quite a small one, too, as organs in his neck of the woods tended to be, on the whole, at that period. If I remember correctly, pretty much reed-free. Got the spec. somewhere.

 

German swell boxes never had much in them anyway. Adequate for a crescendo from about pp to mp, at the most - see Ladegast, Wernigerode, for example.

 

Cheers

Barry

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Did Rheinbeger write for an organ without a Swell box?

 

Yes! Here is the specification of an instrument projected by Rheinberger:

 

1st manual: Bourdon 16, Principal 8, Tibia 8, Gamba 8, Gedackt 8, Quinte 5 2/3, Octav 4, Gemshorn 4, Oktav 2, Mixtur 2 2/3, Trompete 8

2nd manual: Salicional 16, Principalfloete 8, Aeoline 8, Lieblich Gedackt 8, Fugara 4, Floete trav. 4, Flageolett 2, Cornett V, Fagott-Clarinette 8

3rd manual: Geigenprincipal 8, Wienerfloete 8, Dolce 8, Viola 4, Flautino 2

Pedal: Principalbass 16, Violon 16, Subbass 16, Quinte 10 2/3, Octavbass 8, Violoncello 8, Floetenbass 4, Posaune 16

 

no explicite mention of a swell box, no high mutations, no céleste ranks!

 

I played a lot of Rheinberger and can recommend you the Sonatas 3, 4, 8, 11, 19 to start with. No. 4 is very easy to play and is very good music throughout. Nr. 8 is perhaps Rheinbergers most perfect Sonata, but the final Passacaglia has some technical difficulties to tackle (the penultimate page ist really awsome to play). Nr. 11 suffers from a very weak Scherzo, but it has a georgeous Fugue as final movement (but you cannot ommit the Scherzo because the Scherzo-theme becomes one of the Fugue interludes...). Nr. 3 has the best fugue ever written by Rheinberger. It is vigorous and virtouso music which never fails to make a great impact on the audience.

 

BUT: Rheinberger didn't write only Sonatas. He composed a lot of "Charakterstuecke" (comparable in size to those of Reger). These collections contain some very nice music to discover. The "Vision" from op. 156 is particularly fine and can be played (like all of these pieces) even on a small organ.

 

Florian

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

Did Rheinbeger write for an organ without a Swell box?

 

Yes! Here is the specification of an instrument projected by Rheinberger:

 

1st manual: Bourdon 16, Principal 8, Tibia 8, Gamba 8, Gedackt 8, Quinte 5 2/3, Octav 4, Gemshorn 4, Oktav 2, Mixtur 2 2/3, Trompete 8

2nd manual: Salicional 16, Principalfloete 8, Aeoline 8, Lieblich Gedackt 8, Fugara 4, Floete trav. 4, Flageolett 2, Cornett V, Fagott-Clarinette 8

3rd manual: Geigenprincipal 8, Wienerfloete 8, Dolce 8, Viola 4, Flautino 2

Pedal: Principalbass 16, Violon 16, Subbass 16, Quinte 10 2/3, Octavbass 8, Violoncello 8, Floetenbass 4, Posaune 16

 

no explicite mention of a swell box, no high mutations, no céleste ranks!

 

I played a lot of Rheinberger and can recommend you the Sonatas 3, 4, 8, 11, 19 to start with. No. 4 is very easy to play and is very good music throughout. Nr. 8 is perhaps Rheinbergers most perfect Sonata, but the final Passacaglia has some technical difficulties to tackle (the penultimate page ist really awsome to play). Nr. 11 suffers from a very weak Scherzo, but it has a georgeous Fugue as final movement (but you cannot ommit the Scherzo because the Scherzo-theme becomes one of the Fugue interludes...). Nr. 3 has the best fugue ever written by Rheinberger. It is vigorous and virtouso music which never fails to make a great impact on the audience.

 

BUT: Rheinberger didn't write only Sonatas. He composed a lot of "Charakterstuecke" (comparable in size to those of Reger). These collections contain some very nice music to discover. The "Vision" from op. 156 is particularly fine and can be played (like all of these pieces) even on a small organ.

 

Florian

 

 

Dear Florian,

Thankyou for such a comprehensive and interesting posting, and welcome to this forum.

P.

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  • 8 months later...

I wonder how the new Carus-Verlag complete edition of Rheinberger's organ music compares with the editions already mentioned?

 

And a thank you to all those whose members of this forum (and Mander Organs). I've followed this for about a year before taking the plunge and joining the forum. I've always found browsing this board entertaining and informative (and a positive experience because of posters' politeness) sometimes taking me in directions that I wouldn't otherwise have gone (Rheinberger, for example.).

 

The most perfect summer of my life was during my first year of study in Vienna, when I attended an organ masterclass in Liechtenstein. Just the scenery, for someone who had lived all his life in Australia, was unbelievable, with snow on the peaks of the mountains, wildflowers of many colours in the meadows, and the beautiful warmth in the valleys. Of course, I could not escape the connection with Rheinberger, and would happily have traded listening to some of his sonatas for the seemingly endless repetitions of Mozart's 'organ' music!

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<Rant alert!>

 

I've just picked up all five of these CDs on ebay and, while I don't regret the purchase for one minute, I'm glad I didn't pay the RRP for them. Interpretation is a very individual thing, of course, but I'm afraid Rübsam doesn't do it for me. Unlike John, I find his playing positively bizarre. I'm all for flexibility and expressiveness in Romantic music, but surely Rübsam's continual "stop and start" style goes too far? It seems to me to be at the expense of the architecture and symphonic form. In particular I find his habit of systematically pausing before the first beat of the bar intensely irritating. Together with his ever changing tempos, these traits combine to destroy all sense of rhythm to the extent where, unless I already knew the movement in question I couldn't tell what on earth was going on. The opening of Sonata no.4 has always struck me as being like the first movement of a Brahms symphony, but can you ever imagine an orchestra playing it like Rübsam does? I'm sure the failing is mine since I've a sneaking feeling that Brahms, whose playing is said to have been so flexible and expressive that all sense of rhythm frequently disappeared, would heartily approve!

 

So my question is this: if I want a "straighter", yet still warmly expressive and Romantic interpretation of these pieces, whose set should I get? Innig's?

 

My mother taught me never to trust a man with a moustache like that...

 

I agree with people about Rheinberger 8, but to my mind the finest passacaglia since Bach's is Frank Martin's.

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Guest Cynic
My mother taught me never to trust a man with a moustache like that...

 

I agree with people about Rheinberger 8, but to my mind the finest passacaglia since Bach's is Frank Martin's.

 

Do you know the Passacaglia by Frederick Candlyn?

If you don't, this might be my contender.

 

IMHO There are others that can show the Rheinberger a clean pair of heels - the Healey Willan, for example,

or the Karg-Elert (which is so 'way-out there' it's rivetting). Yes, the Martin is a wonderful work....not for everyday listening, however. I'd love to get it out again and play it somewhere, but where? I don't want to frighten anyone.

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  • 1 month later...

Following Vox Humana's question about editions of Rheinberger's organ music, and the absence of responses to my question about the Carus complete works of Rheinberger edition, I thought it might be worthwhile posting some thoughts on the Carus edition now I have received volume 40 of the complete works as well as sonata 8 taken from volume 38 of the complete works.

 

I'm not a Rheinberger specialist, and the only other editions I own are sonata 3 (Schirmer ed. H. Lemare) and sonata 8 (Novello ed. H Grace). I've looked at the first pages of the Bardon editions for these and the trios Op. 49.

 

Volume 40 of the Carus edition contains all the organ works with opus numbers except for the organ sonatas. The organ sonatas are published in volumes 38 (sonatas 1 - 10) and 39 (sonatas 11 - 20). There are 8 sets of works in volume 40:

10 Trios Op. 49

12 Fughetten Op. 123a

12 Fughetten Op. 123b

12 Charakterstuecke Op. 156

Monologe. 12 pieces Op. 162

Meditationen 12 pieces Op. 167

Miscellaneen 12 pieces Op. 174

12 Trios Op. 189

There is both an informative preface (German, English and French) and a critical commentary (German) which is suitably detailed.

The volume is beautifully bound (in an attractive blue linen). The print is reasonably elegant and the layout not too spacious. The preface indicates that the typesetting is newly done for this edition. The paper, while appearing to be of good quality, allows a little too much of the printing on the other side to show for my taste, but despite this it is easily readable.

 

Sonate 8, as a single sonata taken from the first of the two volumes of the sonatas is stapled and has a cardboard cover. I understand that volumes 38 and 39 are reproductions of first editions with corrections, and the quality of the print reflects this - it is quite easy to read, but the lines of the staves are uneven in thickness and in density. The beams of semibreves suffer and noteheads tend to bleed together when they are on adjoining lines or in adjoining spaces. I don't feel that the fonts used for the page numbers of the movement titles match the printing that is retained from the first edition.

 

Having said that, I much prefer this edition to the Novello edition. Grace appears to have taken substantial liberties with phrase and articulation marks. For example, in bars 7 and 8, Grace slurs the semiquaver runs into the following chord, whereas the Carus edition slurs from the chord to the end of the semiquaver run, suggesting a break before each chord rather than after it. (I understand that Rheinberger could be inconsistent with his slurring, but the Carus edition's version looks more likely to me.) Grace also appears to have felt quite at ease changing or adding articulation markings. I don't think I need to comment on the addition of registration markings as we have all experienced this in other editions from this era. Definitely a child of its time, although, I've been known to take note of fingering suggestions from such editions.

 

Grace silently changes the moderato section of the first movement from 3/2 to 3/4, with the pages look rather cluttered as a result. With the exception of the first two pages of the Intermezzo, the layout (i.e. the number of bars on each page) is identical. The first pages of the sonatas in the Bardon edition, by comparison, are more expansive in their layout, and to me are too spacious. In Sonata 8, last movement, bar 22, second beat, the alto voice is given in the Bardon edition as f-sharp, whereas both the other editions give an f-natural.

 

Despite my criticisms, I will probably purchase volumes 38 and 39 so that I have access to others of the sonatas in what appears to be a good edition - only sonatas 4, 8 and 11 are available from Carus as single works.

 

Sorry Barry Jordan, I couldn't compare these with the "Amadeus" edition; Vox Humana, likewise with the "Schott" edition.

 

Florian, I've scheduled "Vision" for an upcoming Evensong. Thank you for your suggestion.

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