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
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
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
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