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Phantasiestücke
Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op.105a (1893) [21:06]
Marie Elisabeth von SACHSEN-MEININGEN (1853-1923)
Romanze in F major for clarinet and piano (1892) [6:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Drei Phantasietücke for clarinet and piano, Op.73 (1849) [10:36]
Drei Romanzen for clarinet and piano, Op.94 (1849) [12:13]
Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
Vier Phantasiestücke for clarinet and piano, Op.22 (1845) [16:10]
André Moisan (clarinet)
Jean Saulnier (piano)
rec. 14-17 April, 2007, Salle Françoys-Bernier, Domaine Forget, Québec, Canada. DDD
ATMA CLASSIQUE ACD2 2516 [67:26]



This disc from the Canadian record label Atma Classique showcases the playing of clarinettist André Moisan and pianist Jean Saulnier. We are informed that this is Moisan’s seventh disc for Atma in this 2007/08 season which sees him celebrating thirty years as a professional clarinettist. Saulnier has previously appeared with Moisan on a much admired 2005 disc of Brahms and Jenner clarinet sonatas for Atma. I have also come across Saulnier’s 1999 recording of Shostakovich, Schnittke, Prokofiev sonatas with cellist Yegor Dyachkov for Disques Pelléas.
 
Here are five works for clarinet and piano from the pens of four composers with very different levels of exposure. Schumann is a key name known throughout the music world; Rheinberger and Reinecke hover on the outer fringes and I very much doubt that many readers will have heard of the Princess Marie Elisabeth von Sachsen-Meiningen. Of special interest is a claimed world premiere recording of the Rheinberger Sonata for clarinet and piano.
 
Although a composer who is generally overlooked these days Josef Rheinberger had a most successful and highly productive career composing almost 200 published scores. Working in Munich, Rheinberger enjoyed an esteemed international reputation as a teacher: notably of Humperdinck; Wolf-Ferrari; Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Americans: Horatio Parker and George Chadwick. A close friend of Hans von Bülow and Johannes Brahms, Rheinberger was not an devotee of the progressive music of the ‘New German School’ of Liszt and Wagner. He readily identified with the spirit of the early Romantic movement of composers such as Weber; Mendelssohn and Schumann, and often employed older forms from the Baroque and Classical traditions.
 
Rheinberger composed in a wide variety of genres including chamber music, a small number of orchestral works and two operas. A sizeable proportion of his oeuvre was composed for the voice; a substantial amount of which was for liturgical use. Composed towards the end of his life in 1898 Rheinberger did achieve popular acclaim with his Mass in F major, Op.190. Sadly Rheinberger’s music has been out of vogue for many years, although, in recent years he has become better represented in the record catalogues with several releases of largely sacred organ and choral works.
 
In 1877 Rheinberger wrote a Sonata for violin and piano, Op.105 that he later transcribed as a Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op.105a in 1893. Cast in three movements the score very much shares the sound world of arch-Romantics Dvořák, Schumann and Brahms, composers whose music he very much admired. It is a highly Romantic and satisfying score that makes considerable demands on the players. In the extended opening movement Allegro non troppo Moisan takes centre-stage with Saulnier only in a subordinate role. The varying moods of the movement fluctuate from the wistful to the passionate to the tormented. The players Saulnier provide an uncomplicated and gently flowing Andante molto where one cannot help but notice the spirit of Mendelssohn. Immediately characterising this rhythmic and melodic closing movement Non troppo allegro is the folk influence of Dvořák (0:18-0:24) with the character of Brahms also never far away.

Information about the composer Princess Marie Elisabeth von Sachsen-Meiningen is thin on the ground. My search of Grove Music Online and my reference book The Norton /Grove Dictionary of Women Composers drew a blank. Confusingly, the Atma annotation provides two different birth and death dates (giving both 1853-1923 and 1891-1971). From the family court in her home city of Meiningen - in the Thuringia area of central Germany- she was evidently associated with a wide circle of musicians. The most famous of these included: Theodor Kirchner, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Richard Mühlfeld, Hans von Bülow and Fritz Steinbach. I assume from these stated connections that this Princess Marie Elisabeth must have lived between 1853-1923.
 
She wrote her single movement Romanze in F major for clarinet and piano in 1892, a score that takes a backward glance to Mendelssohn. She stated that her Romanze was, “magnificently played by Mühlfeld” at a recital where Fritz Steinbach was the pianist. In this performance of the Romanze the players convey a warm and confident mood with undemanding and rapturously flowing melodies. I enjoyed the contrasting section between 2:50-4:50 that is prominently brisk and spiky. This score proves highly attractive, full of finesse and deserves to be more than a mere repertoire curiosity.
 
Schumann holds the position as one of the most eminent composers of the nineteenth century and a leading member of the Romantic Movement in Germany. Also a conductor, pianist, influential music critic and journalist, Schumann married Clara Wieck in 1840, a remarkable pianist who was also a composer. In addition to a considerable body of piano scores such as: Papillons, Davidsbündlertanze and Carnaval, Schumann wrote an enduringly popular Piano Concerto, a Cello Concerto, a great deal of lieder, four symphonies, chamber music, choral works both secular and sacred, and his opera Genoveva.

Schumann’s three Phantasietücke (Fantasy pieces), Op.73 were originally given the title of Soiréestücke. They were composed in 1849 during his time in Dresden following a period of extreme personal and political difficulties. In the controlled medium tempo of the opening piece marked Zart und mit Ausdruck an elaborate melody for Moisan’s clarinet dominates. The slightly brisker pace in the central Lebhaft, leicht announces a playful jousting between the duo. An even quicker tempo in the closing piece marked Rasch und mit Feuer has a hectic and excitable character.
 
Schumann’s set of three Romanzen (Romances), Op.94 also dates from 1849. The opening Nicht schnell has long flowing lines of a somewhat dour disposition and the players here impart a restful confidence to the highly melodic central movement Einfach innig. In the final Romance Nicht schnell - Etwas lebhafter Schumann contrasts a bright and playful nature with a dreamlike and relaxing quality splendidly communicated here with relish and style.
 
Carl Reinecke’s career as conductor, accompanist, teacher and composer gave him an esteemed reputation. Today Reinecke’s compositions have been overshadowed by his distinguished name as a teacher. Pupils came to Reinecke from many countries most notably: Edvard Grieg, Christian Sinding, Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Leos Janáček, Frederick Delius, Max Bruch, Edvard Grieg, Johan Svendsen, Isaac Albéniz and Felix Weingartner.
 
A prolific composer Reinecke wrote over three hundred works in most genres. In addition to a large body of piano works and chamber music he wrote three symphonies, four piano concertos as well as grand and comic operas. Reinecke was exceptionally well connected and was associated with the eminent composers: Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert and Clara Schumann, Niels Gade, Ferdinand Hiller and Johannes Brahms.
 
One of Reinecke’s most notable conducting accomplishments was in 1869 when as musical director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus he was entrusted with the first complete performance of Brahms’ German Requiem. Reinecke’s own music fell out of fashion, although, a small number of his works have endured in the repertoire; namely the Flute Sonata in E major, Op.167 Undine’ and his Flute Concerto, Op.283. In recent years several of his works have been recorded in the ever expanding catalogues: notably on the labels CPO, Signum, Etcetera, Apex, Naxos, Claves and Chandos. See my review of Reinecke’s Harp Concerto, Op. 182, Flute Concerto, Op. 283 and Ballade for flute and orchestra, Op. 288 on Naxos 8.557404.

The four Phantasiestücke for clarinet and piano, Op.22 were composed in 1845 when Reinecke was only twenty-one. Designed to be played by either the violin or the clarinet the four pieces may have been intended for the use of Johann Friedrich Landgraf, the renowned principal clarinettist of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
 
Reinecke’s four Phantasiestücke (fantasy pieces), brief in duration and contrasting in mood, are given a sensitive interpretation that both delights and sparkles. The first piece, an Allegretto in the style of a barcarolle has a forthright and serious hue followed by a bright and brisk piece marked Presto – Un poco più lento – Prestissimo with a central section reminiscent of the sound of raindrops. The third piece Deutscher Waltz (Molto moderato) – Intermezzo (Più allegro) has the spirit of a light and appealing Schubertian Ländler. A brisker section from 3:24 provides a fitting contrast before the piece ebbs away to a peaceful conclusion. Marked Canon (Lento ma non troppo – Un poco più animato) the final piece consists of a canonic dialogue between the two performers. One senses an undercurrent of sorrow as if Reinecke is depicting an intensely painful experience in his life.
 
Recorded at Québec in 2007 the closely recorded sound quality on this Atma release is excellent: warm, detailed and well balanced with only a slight touch of forte fierceness. I enjoyed Moisan’s richly lyrical phrasing with an appealingly mellow timbre. The booklet notes are interesting and reasonably informative but not without some error.
 
A combination of familiar and unknown scores bound together by their sheer Romanticism. I found this a delightful disc with the music splendidly performed and recorded.
 
Michael Cookson
 



 


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