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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
by Kevin Sutton