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Anton REICHA (1770-1836)
Woodwind Quintets, Volume 6

Quintet in A major, Op. 91, No. 5 [38í38"]
Quintet in C minor, Op. 91, No. 6 [38í39"]
Westwood Wind Quintet (John Barcellona, flute; Peter Christ, oboe; Eugene Zoro, clarinet; Jack Herrick, horn; Patricia Nelson, bassoon)
rec. 28-29 Feb, 24-25 June 2004, Crystal Chamber Hall, Camas, Washington, USA
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Anton Reicha lived a somewhat peripatetic life. Born in Prague, he found himself in Bonn by 1785 where he became a friend of the young Beethoven. After subsequently living, studying and working in Hamburg, Paris and Vienna (where he met Haydn), he returned to Paris in 1808, where he lived for the remainder of his life. In 1818 he became Professor of Counterpoint and Fugue at the Paris Conservatoire, where at divers times his pupils included Berlioz and Liszt.

Among his compositions were no less than 24 quintets for woodwind, all of them composed between 1810 and 1820. Indeed, he can be regarded as something of a pioneer in this particular genre. Crystal Records and the Westwood Wind Quintet have set themselves the task of recording the complete set.

As can be seen from the timings above the two pieces recorded here are pretty substantial in length. The works also make quite considerable demands on the players, I would judge, not least in terms of sheer stamina. As I know from my own days of playing the bassoon itís quite a challenge to sustain playing a work over more than half an hour with just a small group of colleagues.

Both of these quintets are cast in four movements. The Fifth quintet opens with a spacious allegro that in this performance occupies no less than 15 minutes of the whole workís duration. Itís prefaced by a slow, legato introduction into which a couple of perky little fanfare passages are interspersed. The main body of the movement is a vivacious allegro, which the Westwood team dispatch with evident relish. All the players need to be on their mettle, but this is especially true of the clarinettist and horn player, both of whom have solos that sound pretty tricky Ė I did not have access to a score of either work. The movement is enjoyable and I presume all repeats are taken but it is, perhaps, just a fraction too long.

The slow movement is marked Poco Adagio. It provides some repose after the activity of the opening movement. However, in this movement I began to have a concern about the performance. To my ears there seemed to be insufficient dynamic contrast and it seemed that the players never achieved anything less than mezzo piano. I wonder to what extent the recorded balance is to blame for the Westwood Quintet are so evidently expert in all other ways that I canít believe they are incapable of playing quietly. The microphones do seem to be placed quite close to the players (one can often hear the flautistís intakes of breath) and, frankly, the sound does come across as somewhat studio-bound. Of course, it may be that Reicha doesnít demand soft playing but that I rather doubt.

The third movement is called a Menuetto but in fact itís more akin to a scherzo with a pretty rustic ländler trio. Itís a bright and breezy movement, deftly played here. I was particularly struck by an upward swirling figure that we first hear on the clarinet and, subsequently on the clarinet and flute in duet. Itís a lovely idea. The finale is a substantial piece, cast, like the opening movement, in sonata form. The music is perky and full of life and the players articulate it crisply.

The Sixth quintet also has a lengthy first movement, lasting 12í20" here. Like its companion the work opens with a big introduction (lasting to 2í23"), which is rather imposing and is aptly described in the accompanying notes as "sombre." The main body of the movement, an allegro, is busy and full of incident.

The second movement, marked larghetto, struck me as being a little plain but it gets an affectionate performance here. The third movement again has the character of a scherzo and trio and it features a particularly lively part for the flute. Itís a gay, extrovert movement, calculated to bring a smile to the face of the listener. The finale is marked Allegro Assai and, apparently Reicha referred to is as a "Capriccio". Most of the material is in a fast tempo and it fairly sparkles. However, every once in a while Reicha interrupts the proceedings with a short, slower passage in 3/8 time. This good-humoured music clearly makes technical demands on the players, especially the flute and the bassoon at times. The Westwood quintet play with gusto and no little skill, eventually sweeping to a joyous conclusion.

The Westwood players are an agile and committed group. Just once or twice I suspected that some of the evidently complicated finger-work had presented a particular challenge to one or other of the players. However, throughout both works they sound to be having fun and it sounds to me as if they play as a true ensemble, with and for each other.

The CD comes with copious documentation in English only. I must say I thought there were a few passages in the notes that were a bit earnest in tone but on the other hand itís right that relatively unfamiliar music is properly introduced to the listener. On my equipment the recorded sound seemed to be too closely balanced, allowing insufficient space around the music. However, this may not bother other listeners as much, if at all, and the recording may reproduce differently on other equipment and in other rooms.

The main thing is that these are fresh and appealing works and for the Westwood Quintet these recordings are evidently a labour of love. They and Crystal Records have done Reicha proud and since this is one of the earliest releases in the series it can be said that the venture has been auspiciously launched.

John Quinn



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