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Antonín REICHA (1770-1836)
Lenore – Dramatic Cantata for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra (1806)
Camilla Nylund, Soprano (Lenore)
Pavla Vykopalová, Mezzo-Soprano (Mutter)
Corby Welch, Tenor (Erzähler - Narrator)
Vladimir Chmelo, Bass (Wilhelm)
Prague Chamber Choir
Virtuosi di Praga/Frieder Bernius
Recorded at Prague Studio Korunni 60, November 2001
ORFEO 244 031 A [77:42]

Comparison Version: Mátl/Supraphon/1986

Antonín Reicha is one of what seems like an endless number of composers who bridged the gap between the Classical and Romantic periods. The appeal of these composers’ music is mainly the mix of the traditional classical style and the emerging romantic approach. In effect, exacting form and elegance meet flexibility and angst.

Reicha was one of the most gifted composers of the early-romantic period. His technical expertise in musical architecture was superb, his works displayed a keen ability to offer logic and sweep, and he was adept at all musical forms. I tend to place Reicha with Louis Spohr and Johann Nepomuk Hummel as the best composers of the early-romantic era. The music of each is very enjoyable and often outstanding.

Reicha is likely best known for his many wind quintets that have been recorded complete on the CPO label. Also highly rewarding are his other chamber works, a small number of symphonies, a few sacred choral works, and his thirty-six Fugues for Piano.

The disc at hand is a dramatic cantata on the fantasy text of a ballad written by Gottfried August Bürger in 1773. The poem is a story of love, despair, and the seemingly endless road to death. Wilhelm has gone off to war as his beloved Lenore waits for his return. The Army’s troops do return, but Wilhelm is not among them. Seven long years pass, and Lenore still waits in a state of anguish that she expresses quite vehemently to her mother. Finally, an other-worldly Wilhelm appears on his horse and beckons Lenore to hop aboard as they gallop to their nuptial bed; the crafty Wilhelm leaves out the fact that they are destined for their graves. After a long journey, they reach their destination, and Wilhelm becomes a skeleton and Lenore dies.

Bürger was not a highly regarded writer. In fact, he was ridiculed on a frequent basis. Judging from "Lenore", the ridicule might have been warranted. The plot is very thin, and character development non-existent. Wilhelm is only a wooden figure with just one thought on his mind, to take Lenore to her death. Lenore is also one-dimensional and ridiculously gullible as to Wilhelm’s intentions. Bürger simply does not inject any meaningful human qualities into his figures.

Fortunately, Reicha’s music to the inadequate story telling saves the day. He invests his composition with ample variety of instrumentation, vocal contribution, musical form, and breadth of emotion. Essentially, Reicha gives life to the wooden text, and I commend him for the accomplishment. While his "Lenore" is not a masterpiece by any means, it is consistently enjoyable and holds one’s attention throughout.

Frieder Bernius excellently leads the new Orfeo performance with compelling contributions by the chorus. Each of the vocal soloists is appropriately expressive and of attractive tone. Sound quality is superb, allowing all of Reicha’s musical detail and counterpoint to shine through.

Although Reicha’s "Lenore" is quite obscure, there is another recording of it on Supraphon that is also rewarding. However, the age of the performance does show, and Mátl doesn’t deliver as vibrant or strongly punctuated a performance as Bernius.

There is one feature advantageous to the Supraphon release. It offers the text in four languages including English; Orfeo only gives us the German text. That could be quite damaging to an understanding of the plot and human emotions, but the music is much more expressive than the text and Orfeo does provide a fine synopsis of the plot.

For readers enamored of the musical bridge connecting the Classical and Romantic eras, this new Orfeo recording of Reicha’s "Lenore" is self-recommending. If the absence of the text in English is significant, I can confidently suggest the Supraphon release as a valid alternative. Whichever you choose, Reicha’s music is very alluring and worth your investigation.

Don Satz


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