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Carl Heinrich REINECKE (1824-1910)
Symphony no.1 in A major op.79 (1856-63) [25:45]
Violin Concerto in G minor op.141 (1876) [34:03]*
Romance in A minor for violin and orchestra op.155 (1879) [9:48]*
Romance in E minor for violin and orchestra op.93 (Prelude to Act IV of König Manfred) (mid-1860s) [3:39]*
Ingolf Turban (violin)*
Berne Symphony Orchestra/Johannes Moesus
rec. 12 October 2004 and 23-24 September 2004*, Grosser Saal, Kultur-Casino Bern, Switzerland. The violin works are live recordings.
CPO 777 105-2 [73:18]


The name of Carl Reinecke crops up repeatedly in history books, mainly on account of his disgruntled students. The booklet notes here mention Grieg. Most British listeners know Stanford’s recollection that “Of all the dry musicians I have ever known, he was the most desiccated”. Svendsen wrote to Grieg in 1878 that “not only is he envious and bloodless … but he is also in the highest degree villainous”. Yet earlier on Schumann had wondered at Reinecke’s ability to assimilate his new works: “He has my stuff by heart before I’ve even written it”. In 1882 his reputation was still high enough for Elgar to travel to Leipzig specially to hear him conduct.

Yet the only Reinecke works I really know, a set of vocal duets, are charming, melodious and warm-hearted pieces. As so often, the tendency to go for the bigger works of a small composer may not be the best idea. The first symphony is an untroubled, melodious piece. In three movements out of four it does what it has to do with reassuring lightness of touch. The scherzo springs a few surprises, harmonically and instrumentally, suggesting that not everything in Reinecke may be predictable.

The Violin Concerto opens with a groundswell suggestive of Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” and there is both power and lyricism to sustain the considerable length  - 15 minutes – of the first movement. The slow movement illustrates both Reinecke’s strengths and his weaknesses. The basic theme begins with a haunting four-note motive and its numerous reappearances are so subtly coloured, both orchestrally and harmonically, that it was only about three-quarters through that it occurred to me that he was just going round and round in circles. The idea is never developed, we just get yet another loving preparation for its umpteenth repetition. Around this point, too, I began to note the absence of the sort of pain or discomfort that tends to accompany great art, suggesting that, whether or not Reinecke was villainous or envious, he may have been a little bloodless.

The theme of the finale begins with a four-note motive which is only slightly different from that of the previous movement and I found it hard to decide whether some sort of cyclical form was intended or whether Reinecke just had the habit of beginning themes like that. The slow movement theme with its now well-familiar four-note motive certainly does turn up again in this finale, but if a piece is to be based on a four-note motive it should be a germ not a mere label.

However, I do not wish to suggest that Reinecke is ever less than pleasing. This concerto had its première given by Joseph Joachim and the notes mention another G minor concerto dedicated to him by a minor composer which nevertheless entered the repertoire – the first by Max Bruch. In this work Bruch showed an ability not only to establish an atmosphere but to develop it, to create long thematic lines, even to suggest a degree of autobiographical self-communing. In this work Bruch excelled himself; such of his lesser-known works that I know are much of a muchness with Reinecke. It would be nice to find a piece or two where Reinecke excelled himself in the same way; the search will never be less than pleasant.

The Romance in A minor may be a case in point. Here the themes not only begin well but achieve more lyrical extension. This is a piece that might well be slipped into concert programmes, as might the brief but surprisingly strong Act IV Prelude to King Manfred. “Great” violinists would be unlikely to get into a plane just to play a few minutes of Reinecke, but if a conductor felt like letting his leading violinist enjoy some brief limelight during a concert, either of these would be welcome.

I have been a little harsh on the major works, but it’s useless creating the idea that Reinecke may be a goldmine. Once that is understood, investigation of his vast output is to be welcomed.

The performances sound fully at home with the music, warm, lively and sympathetic without special pleading. I occasionally wondered about the violinist’s intonation in the upper register and noted some imprecise orchestral chording, oddly enough more in the studio recording of the symphony than in the live performances – before utterly silent audiences – of the violin works.

Christopher Howell 

see also Review by Kevin Sutton 


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