Anton REICHA (1770-1836)
Chamber Music for Bassoon and Strings
Variations for solo bassoon, accompanied by 2 violins, viola and cello
Grand Quintet for bassoon, 2 violins, viola and cello [37:42]
Island (Jane Gower (bassoon), Madeleine Easton, Alice Evans (violin), Galina
Zinchenko (viola), Catherine Jones (cello))
rec. January 2011, Gruenberg Church, Moculta, South Australia. DDD
ARS PRODUKTION ARS 38 091 [49:53]
In the second half of the 18th century Bohemia was the breeding ground for
a large number of musicians who were to play a prominent role in the European
music scene until the first decades of the 19th century. One of them was Antonin
Reicha, generally known by his German name Anton. At an early age he lived
with his uncle Josef, a cellist and composer. When Josef moved to Bonn in
1785 to become director of the Hofkapelle, Anton played the flute in the orchestra.
Beethoven, born in the same year as Reicha, played viola in the orchestra,
and this resulted in a lifelong friendship.
In 1794 Reicha moved to Hamburg when the French armies invaded Bonn. Here
he decided to give up performing. From that date he concentrated on composing,
teaching and studying mathematics, philosophy and music. His interest in composing
operas brought him to Paris in 1799 where he hoped for some success in this
department. That never really happened as his operas were tepidly received.
There was much more interest in his theoretical writings, for instance about
the fugue, and his own musical illustrations.
For some years he worked in Vienna, where he renewed his friendship with Beethoven
and Haydn. There he wrote a large amount of chamber music. After his return
to Paris he had a number of pupils who were all to become accomplished musicians.
They were soon appointed as professors at the Conservatoire, and they must
have had considerable influence on the appointment of Reicha at the same institution.
He soon earned the reputation of being "precise, logical, efficient and
strict", as Peter Eliot Stone writes in the article on Reicha in New
Today Reicha is mostly known for his wind quintets. He is rightly considered
the founder of this genre. In his own time these quintets caused great excitement.
In 1815 a special concert series was organised to perform all the pieces in
this genre he had composed. Between 1811 and 1820 he wrote 24 quintets for
flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. But there is much more in his oeuvre,
and this disc presents two specimens of his chamber music for a wind instrument
and strings. The disc begins with Variations for bassoon and strings. I assume
that the title as given in the tracklist is original, and that shows exactly
how the roles are allocated. The bassoon is at the centre, and the strings
only accompany, although they play ritornelli between the variations. The
bassoon part is quite virtuosic, and Reicha must have had a very skilled player
in mind when he composed this piece.
In the Quintet the bassoon and the strings are treated more equally, although
here it is the first violin which has a prominent part to play. That is especially
the case in the first and last movements, where the violin often introduces
a motif which is then imitated by the bassoon. In this piece the bassoon part
is again virtuosic. Whereas in the Variations the bassoonist has some very
high notes to play, the Quintet contains some notes at the very bottom of
his instrument's tessitura. In particular in the opening movement - with more
than 15 minutes it’s by far the longest of the four - the bassoon part includes
some wide leaps. It is an indication of the quality of Reicha's music that
this is a captivating movement despite its length. The second movement is
a lento arioso, with the fragrance of opera about it, whereas the menuet is
a scherzo-like piece with some humorous elements. The finale is an illustration
of Reicha's craft, with its many modulations. The bassoonist gets another
chance to show his prowess, and the first violin also plays a major role.
Reicha is not badly represented on disc, but the interest in his music is
a bit one-sided: it is mainly his wind quintets which are recorded, and most
of his music is available in probably one or two recordings. So far period
instrument ensembles haven't really explored his music. In general the music
written in the early decades of the 19th century in Paris has escaped the
attention of period instrument performers. It seems that is about to change.
Recently several recordings with music by composers from that time have been
released, for instance with music by Onslow. This disc is another sign of
Jane Gower is a celebrated performer on period bassoons who has collected
a number of original instruments which she also uses in performance. She is
the principal bassoonist of the English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestre
Révolutionnaire et Romantique. She recorded Mozart's bassoon concerto as well
as concertos by Franz Danzi. With her ensemble Island she recorded music for
bassoon and strings by Danzi, Devienne, Hummel and Krommer. These are all
very fine recordings, which bear witness to her technical brilliance. But
above all they are very good and musically captivating performances on an
instrument which is mostly not at the centre of attention. The use of a period
instrument is not only of historical interest. It serves the music, as the
bassoons of the time produce different colours in the various registers, and
composers made effective use of that. There is a congenial partnership between
the members of the ensemble. The first violin, Madeleine Easton, deserves
special mention for her fine playing in the Quintet.
It will hardly be necessary to encourage lovers of the bassoon to purchase
this disc. They will not be discouraged by the short playing time which is
the only regrettable aspect. I am sure everyone will enjoy this recording,
because of the music and because of the fine playing. There is every reason
to look forward to upcoming projects from this ensemble.
Johan van Veen
Nobody should be discouraged by the short playing time from purchasing this