Fink The Great Organ Works Hänssler

Christian Fink (1831-1911)
The Great Organ Works
Organ Sonata No.5 in E minor, Op. 83
Fantasia on [the chorale] ‘Ein’ feste Burg’ in D major, Op. 23
Organ Sonata No.1 in G minor, Op. 1
Chorale Prelude on ‘Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele‘ in E major, Op.2, No.3
Organ Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.19
Lukas Nagel, Philip Kaufmann, Sören Gieseler, Hyelin Lee (organ)
rec. 2022, Evangelical State Church, Stuttgart-Gaisburg, Germany
nssler Classic HC22066 [70]

We are told in the notes to this recording that Christian Fink was regarded, during his lifetime, as ‘Swabia’s most significant musical artist of his era’. However, unlike his great contemporaries Josef Rheinberger and Gustav Merkel, the names most associated with the genre of the organ sonata in Germany, his music seems to have gained no currency outside his native country. During his career he received the highest public awards, was co-editor of the journal Euterpe and was highly respected as a composer, pedagogue and conductor. For almost 50 years, he shaped cultural life in the city of Esslingen as well as directing institutional musical life in Württemberg. In his field he seems to have been of national importance yet, within 20 years of his death, his works were almost completely forgotten. 

This disc is part of a wider project devoted to rehabilitating Fink after over a century of neglect. The pianist Robert Bärwald has undertaken the first complete recording of Fink’s songs and piano works and while organ music makes up a large part of his output, the predominant genre is vocal music, with some 64 mostly sacred choral works from a total of over 156 compositions. There is a complete absence of chamber music or stage works. This is surprising given his training at the Leipzig Conservatory and the teaching he received from Ignaz Moscheles for piano, Moritz Hauptmann for theory and Julius Rietz for composition. All three were to teach Arthur Sullivan a few years later, Fink having entered the Conservatory as an older student.

In style the music seems to occupy a place between Mendelssohn and Max Reger. Like them, Fink often uses chorale melodies in his organ music. Given the rigorous training he received, it is not surprising to find that the workmanship is of the highest standard with an imaginative use of his thematic material. The 3 organ sonatas take up most of the space on the disc and these are very worthwhile examples of the genre, even if they can hardly be said to break any new ground. Fink does not appear to have been an innovator, but was content to work within the stylistic and aesthetic norms of his time.  This is not a criticism; there much here to enjoy and the 4 young players who divide the music between them play it with great skill and affection. A forgotten talent well worth exploring.

Martyn Strachan

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