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Josef REJCHA (1752-1795)
Concerto in A major for Cello and Orchestra Op 4 No 1
Concerto in D major for Two Violins (or Violin and Cello) and Orchestra Op 3
Concerto in D major for Cello and Orchestra
Mikael Ericsson, cello
Jana Vlachova, violin
Czech Chamber Orchestra/Ondrej Kukal
Recorded Martinek Studio, Prague, February, May and September 1995
PANTON 81 1420 – 1031 [69’31]


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I’ve given the surname, Czech-style, as Supraphon does but though born in Chudenice, West Bohemia, he is better known to us as Reicha. He studied in Prague, first as a choirboy and then as a cellist, being taught by Franz Joseph Werner, the city’s premier soloist. As with so many Bohemian musicians he travelled widely becoming a cello principal in Swabia where he joined a band full of fellow Czechs. He later became Kapellmeister in Bonn and in 1785 succeeded to the directorship of court music. Reicha died as he’d lived most of his life, abroad.

Panton’s well-produced CD, recorded in 1995, highlights one of Reicha’s particular strengths, which was a fusion of ingratiating melody and solid technical address. As a cello soloist himself he was ideally placed to exploit contrasts of register and the potential for colour; as a composer he was firmly in the Mannheim School where, once again, he mixed with émigré Czechs, Stamitz and Richter amongst them. The conjectural influence of Reicha on Beethoven has frequently been noted but it’s incontestable that he was an influence on his own talented nephew Antonin Reicha. There has been in fact, and probably continues to be, confusion between the two men’s work and compositions attributed to Josef may well have been written by Antonin.

The A Major Concerto has retained a tentative hold on the repertoire. Emanuel Feuermann played it and an off-air recording exists of his performance in 1940 but as with the slightly earlier concerto of Matthias Georg Monn, which in a broad sense it stylistically resembles, it’s remained ancillary to the literature and not become a canonical part of it. Reicha was certainly aware of phrasal clarity and neatness in his concertos; the pressures are not inconsiderable for the soloist and Ericsson copes well, though not immaculately (his intonation comes under strain occasionally). The string textures in the A Major play against each other and then playfully together in the second movement; there is a delicious soloistic compass here, from the lowest to the highest positions with associated ranges of dynamics. The contrasts of quiet playing are especially attractive as are Ericsson’s pliant and soft lower two strings. It is the finale that most reminded me of Monn – a sunshine burst of a noble and buoyantly tuneful Rondo.

Jana Vlachova, daughter of Josef Vlach, of whose famous quartet she became subsequent leader joins her cellist husband in the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, which seems to have had an alternative existence as a Double Violin Concerto, though the CD documentation is silent on the compositions themselves. She begins a little nervously in her unison exchanges with Ericsson but soon warms up as she launches into dialogues and solo lines. Reicha is especially convincing at the balance between unison and solo lines in the slow movement with the two entwining over a moving bass line at a moderate tempo (a well sustained Andante). The finale though is disappointingly generic with some solid, if relatively uninspiring, cello lines with violin soaring on top; a nice Mannheim throw away ending, though.

The D Major Cello Concerto is comprehensively less exciting than its companion in A Major though still a gallant and high spitited affair. The first movement is bright but rather overlong for its thematic material and gives way to an Adagio in which Reicha exploits his sure expertise in register writing. Once again, to the accompaniment of chugging orchestral strings, the soloist spans both extremes of register. There’s some difficult passagework here – and dangerously easy to lose intonation. The effervescent Allegro finale ends the piece with considerable dash – the Czech Chamber Orchestra under Ondrej Kukal accompany with good shaping of lines and discreet musicianship. The stand out work on the disc is the A Major Concerto but this issue is of real interest – and not just to those preoccupied with the Classicists of the Bohemian diaspora.

Jonathan Woolf


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