Carl REINECKE (1824-1910)
Complete Cello Sonatas
No.1 in A minor op.42 (1855) [18:58]
No.2 in D major op.89 (1867) [22:37]
No.3 in G major op.238 (1897) [20:46]
Manuel Fischer-Dieskau (cello), Connie Shih (piano)
rec. 25-27 November 2010, Ehemaliges Ackerhaus der Abtei Marienmünster
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 603 1661-2 [62:44]
For British listeners, the name of Reinecke is likely to evoke Stanford’s
recollection - after an uninspiring period of study with him - that “of
all the dry musicians I have ever known, he was the most desiccated”.
Scandinavians will remember that Grieg thought no better of the man and that
for Svendsen, “not only is he envious and bloodless … he is also
in the highest degree villainous”. Yet many musicians sought him
out during his long reign at the Leipzig Gewandhaus (1860-1895), including Sullivan,
Bruch, Delius and the three just mentioned, while Elgar travelled to Leipzig
in 1882 to hear him conduct.
If this all suggests a plodding academic, the “Undine” Sonata for
flute and piano, the one work by Reinecke that remains at least on the fringe
of the repertoire, is neither academic nor lacking in fantasy. A disc containing
the First Symphony, the Violin Concerto and some smaller pieces suggested to
me that further examination of Reinecke would be never less than pleasant, if
hardly thrilling. Maybe thrilling would be too strong a word for these cello
sonatas too, but they do suggest he was more inspired in chamber music than
in larger orchestral pieces.
In some ways the first sonata is the most attractive of all. Its ballad-like
opening theme immediately catches the attention and the second theme is not
only well contrasted, it is introduced in a very remote tonality indeed. What
is striking about this movement is the mastery with which it combines free-flowing,
rhapsodic feeling with tight formal control. Though Reinecke is said to have
looked back to Mendelssohn and Schumann for his models, and certainly rejected
Liszt and Wagner, his music combines romantic spirit with an intuitive sense
of form. Here, at least, he was able to make his own personal fusion of classical
ideals and romantic freedom. The second movement also contains a number of quite
contrasting ideas and the finale has much surging passion.
The claims of the second sonata are not to be underestimated, either. After
a short but brooding introduction the first movement leads off with a pithy,
expressive idea that revolved in my head for some days afterwards. Again, Reinecke’s
formal control is tight even while the effect is of free rhapsody. The themes
tend not to appear and reappear in the expected places and tonalities, and are
inclined to undergo transformations just where an exact recapitulation might
seem in sight. The second movement is marked “Quasi fantasia” and
has much soaring romantic melody. The finale starts with a catchy tune but is
inclined to chase its own tail a bit too much for its own good. This, admittedly,
is a common failing among 19th century finales when not written by
Altogether, it may be said that, if Reinecke did not revolutionize sonata forms,
he nevertheless evolved an intuitively inventive way of reinterpreting received
formal wisdom. The interesting thing is that exactly the same thing could be
said about his grudging pupil Stanford’s chamber music, even down to a
tendency to write finales that chase their own tail. One is bound to wonder
if Reinecke’s music did not have a greater influence on Stanford than
he later cared to admit, having been so disappointed by the man himself. Also
common to both composers is a complete equality between the two partners, with
plenty of challenging material for both players and a continual melodic interplay
that must make Reinecke’s chamber music rewarding to perform. Ultimately,
I suppose this music inhabits smiling valleys and pleasant domestic surroundings
rather than soar above the mountain peaks, but we can surely find a place for
music that does this so attractively.
The third sonata arouses more ambivalent reactions. Dedicated “to the
shade of Brahms”, who had just died, its formal mastery will not be questioned.
Furthermore, while in one sense it occupies harmonic ground solidly rooted in
Schumann, its restless modulations look ahead to the world of Reger. It is a
bitter, even vehement work by a composer whose art was by then left high and
dry by musical progress. The only problem is that Reinecke’s easy flow
of melodic inspiration seems to have dried up. The themes are clear-cut and
functional, but neither the composer’s masterly development of them, nor
these performers’ imagination and conviction, can hide the fact that the
cupboard is a little bare. Only the second theme of the finale recalls the warmth
of earlier years. Nevertheless, as often with late works by composers clinging
to the style of their youth in the teeth of what they perceive as ugly modernism,
the sense of isolation and disillusionment can be moving in themselves. Here,
too, the case of Stanford is an obvious parallel.
Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, just in case you’ve been wondering, is the great
baritone’s son. It would seem that interventionism, as an interpretative
creed, runs in the family. But, like his father at his best, MF-D knows how
to intervene in a way that brings the music to life, and he extracts the maximum
range of expression from these scores. The Canadian pianist Connie Shih has
an easy technical command and a well-rounded tone in the heavier moments. She
and the cellist seem in full agreement over how to play this music. They leave
me wondering why the first two sonatas, at least, never made it into the not
very large repertoire of romantic cello sonatas.
Cellists reading these words may be wondering where they can get the scores.
They will be delighted to find that the IMSLP-Petrucci Library, a great Internet
resource, apparently offers all three for free download. They will be a bit
less delighted when they find that the file of no.1 is missing pages 4-15, jumping
from the first page of the first movement to the last page of the second, so
you get only the finale complete. Also, there’s not a cello part, instead
there’s an alternative violin part. The second sonata is complete but
the piano part of no.3 lacks the last page, or maybe the last two. In compensation
you get pages 10 and 11 twice. I used to think that people who do things for
love not money do them properly, but on this showing even some who work for
love are as slap-happy as any half-hearted employee anxious for the next coffee
break. Granted, one shouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, but we may
reasonably check that it has all four legs.
None of this little grumble, obviously, affects the value of this finely recorded
and excellently annotated disc of three cello sonatas well worth investigating.
The name of Reinecke is beginning to come alive for me.
Well worth investigating. The name of Reinecke is beginning to come alive for