REICHA: Wind Quintets, Op. 88, No. 5 and Op. 91, No. 1 (Michael Thompson Wind Quintet) (Naxos: 8.554227)
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Antonin Reicha (1770-1836)
Wind Quintet in B flat major, Op. 88, No. 5 Wind Quintet in C major, Op. 91, No. 1
The death of his father in 1771 left the ten-month oldAntonin Rejcha in the care of a mother who was unableto look after him properly. He ran away to his paternalgrandfather when he was eleven and then accepted theoffer of a home and education with his uncle Josef, ahighly respected cellist and the Konzertmeister at thecelebrated court of Oettingen-Wallerstein. Rejcha laterrecalled that the worst moment of this second lonelyjourney came when he had to feign eye trouble in orderto persuade a border guard to let him pass without anyproper documentation.
During the next three years Antonin learned to playthe flute, violin and piano, and in 1785 joined theElector's orchestra in Bonn as a violinist and flautist.
There could hardly have been a better opportunity, forthe Elector already employed the young Beethoven asan organist and viola player and the two youngmusicians immediately established a firm friendship.
Both also had composition lessons with Christian Neefeand in 1792 were offered the chance to study withHaydn in Vienna. Beethoven accepted, but Rejcharemained in Bonn until 1794, when the city wasoccupied by Napoleon's troops and the Elector fled.
Josef was too ill to travel but, fearing that his nephewwould be attracted by the revolutionary ideas of theFrench army, sent him to the relative safety ofHamburg. There Rejcha concentrated on composition,teaching and philosophy, but found that the dampclimate affected his health. He therefore moved to Parisin 1799 but soon decided that the political situationthere was too uncertain and after two years rejoinedBeethoven in the relative security of Vienna.
An ardent champion of change, Rejcha developedhis own philosophy of music and aesthetics, arguingthat \old" forms such as fugue could have a place inmodern music only if composers also challengedaccepted norms such as the need for bar-lines or forworks to start and end in the same key. He thendemonstrated some of these ideas in the PraktischeBeispiel, a set of 36 bizarre fugues for piano whichinclude unusual rhythms, time signatures and harmoniesand which he published in 1803. Before he could takehis ideas further, however, Napoleon's troops arrived inVienna and Rejcha returned to Paris. There hecontinued to publish theoretical treatises on aesthetics,but had to find another source of income and, afterchanging his name to Antoine Reicha, began to earn areputation as an effective and entertaining teacher. Hispupils included Berlioz, Liszt, Franck and Gounod, andhis reputation as a member of the French musicalestablishment was confirmed in 1818 by hisappointment to teach composition at the ParisConservatoire.
Today Reicha is best known for his 25 quintets forflute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. This combinationof instruments had been used occasionally before andReicha first tried it in 1811 but then studied each of theinstruments in detail before composing a pair of'incomparably superior works' as the first two pieces inhis Op. 88. The remaining four quintets in the set werewritten in 1817, and all six were published andperformed at the The?ótre Favart in Paris later that year.
The Parisian public welcomed them as great noveltiesand in 1818 were rewarded with a second set of sixquintets, Op. 91. Two further sets of six followed,Op. 99 in 1819 and Op. 100 in 1820, and the Pariscorrespondent of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitungcommented that, 'if it is possible to surpass Haydn inquartets and quartet composition, this has been achievedby Reicha in these quintets'.
'They created the same sensation thoughoutEurope', recorded Reicha in his autobiography. JohnSainsbury was particularly impressed: 'No description,no imagination can do justice to these compositions', hewrote in England in 1825. 'The effect produced by theextraordinary combinations of apparently oppositetonedinstruments, added to Reicha's vigorous style ofwriting and judicious arrangement, have rendered thesequintets the admiration of the musical world.' ALondon critic who heard a quintet at the PhilharmonicSociety in 1825 described it as 'one of the mostintolerable pieces that we were ever condemned tohear', but most opposition was more temperate: Berliozfound the quintets 'a little cold', and while Louis Spohrfelt that they were 'too profuse with ideas', he praisedtheir rich harmonies and effective scoring.
The players for whom Reicha wrote the quintetswere among the finest of the day. All but for thebassoonist, Antoine Henry, had studied compositionwith Reicha himself, and the clarinettist, Jacques-JulesBouffil, was the only one who did not hold a teachingpost at the Paris Conservatoire. 'It is almost taken forgranted that M.Vogt has not a peer on the oboe', wrotethe Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung; 'Every outstandingplayer of this instrument here owes his entire training tothis artist.' The flautist was Joseph Guillou and it isclear from Reicha's horn lines that Louis-Fran?ºoisDauprat was a performer of the highest standard. Healso enjoyed a reputation as a teacher which wassecond-to-none: his Methode de cor alto et cor basse isone of the most comprehensive and intelligent tutorsever written.
The slow introduction which opens the WindQuintet in B flat major, Op. 88, No. 5, includes cadenzasfor horn and clarinet before leading into the Allegro nontroppo, an extensive, sedate and reflective movementwhich gives all the players opportunities to display theirvirtuosity. The gentle opening of the second movementis interrupted by a stormy minor-key passage but thisquickly blows itself out. Characteristically, Reicha callshis third-movement Scherzo a 'Minuet' but theaccompanying trio is most unusual, opening with aneight-bar horn call which is then repeated eleven timesas an ostinato as other players weave new sonoritiesaround it. The finale canters along happily with only afew occasions which cause the players any difficulty.
In contrast the Wind Quintet in C major, Op. 91,No. 1, is one of only two of his wind quintets which donot open with a slow introduction. Instead its bustlingfirst theme suddenly breaks off in favour of a short,plaintive idea to which Reicha does not refer again. Theelegant Andante leads subtly into a Minuetto with acharacteristic sleight of hand: each instrument enters inturn with a held note so that the triple metre of themovement does not become apparent until the sixth bar.
The trio contrasts contrapuntal ideas with chatteringchords, and the finale uses counterpoint to such anextent that parts seem almost Baroque.John Humphries