Of serious and sober music, there may be none more so than German Romantic organ music. You can expect moments of melodrama and triumph, but little temptation to laugh or dance.
That, at least, was the case Monday evening when Wolfgang Rubsam offered a compact, arduous sampling of music from men who would be Bach. His program inaugurated the organ, newly renovated by Schlicker, at All Saints’ Church in Beverly Hills. As the occasion was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles and Pasadena chapters of the American Guild of Organists, Rubsam had a large audience of his peers on hand.
A measured, potent, often oppressive reading of Reger’s Fantasy on “Straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn” was Rubsam’s most striking achievement in the solemn vein, and it certainly displayed the power of the instrument’s new 32-foot contra-trombone in ominous, visceral fashion. Organist of both Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, Rubsam handled Reger’s thick writing with technical ease and interpretive point.
The organist saved his most flamboyant effort for the end, Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H. Not perhaps ideally impassioned, it nonetheless developed with vigor and color.
Rubsam’s registrations emphasized darker solo colors and the instrument’s mellow foundation stops in sonatas by Mendelssohn and Joseph Rheinberger, music more earnest than profound. The instrument revealed some unsettled tuning, acerbated no doubt by the heat, but the dull effect in this music seemed the responsibility of composers and performer.
At the center of the program was music by Bach himself, the Chorale Prelude on “Allein Gott in der Hoh’ sei Ehr,” BWV 662. Though stylistically well-informed, Rubsam’s languid account provided little contrast with the prevailing Romantic weight and density of thought and texture.