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Antonin (Antoine) REICHA (1770-1836)
Practische Beispiele (1803) XX: Harmonie (Fantaisies sur l’harmonie précédente) [9:13]; VII: Capriccio [4:55]; IV: Fantaisie sur un seul accord [4:10]
Grande Sonate in C (c.1805) [26:32]
Sonata in F on a Theme of Mozart (c.1805) [19:01]
Étude in E-minor, Op.97/1 [2:23]
Ivan Ilić (piano)
rec. March 2017, Le Studio Ansermet, Geneva, Switzerland
CHANDOS CHAN10950 [66:47]

The field of Reicha studies lies relatively open for the inquisitive pianist. I’ve reviewed the first two of Henrik Lowenmark’s sterling efforts on behalf of the composer for Toccata (see review review) and now Ivan Ilić inaugurates the first volume in his own series for Chandos. It will be intriguing to see at which point – if at all – the repertoire overlaps.

Given that so much of Reicha’s piano music remains yet to be recorded the title ‘Reicha Rediscovered’ has a certain logic to it. That’s particularly so in the case of the two sonatas. The Grande Sonata, written around 1805, opens in declamatory and heroic fashion, its sweeping drama and virtuosity allied to a vein of well-sprung lyrical romance. He generates rather beautiful effects in the slow movement and the finale is capricious, droll and at the same time imaginative. Probably dating from the same period, the Sonata on a Theme of Mozart – the theme is from The March of the Priests from The Magic Flute – is striking in offering up a first movement theme and variations – possibly an unparalleled escapade at a time when the variations came in the second or third movements. The only regret here is that the finale is lost so a Rondo in F major has been substituted, and fortunately its bigness and extrovert nature fit the work well.

The Czech-born but pan-European, cosmopolitan Reicha was a theoretician as well as a performer (he played the flute). One great example of his questing musicianship comes in his extensive Practische Beispiele of 1803, which consist of strongly theoretical rules with forward-thinking analyses. This ‘Contribution to the Intellectual Culture of the Composer’ may seem forbidding, but the music belies any hint of remorseless didacticism. Harmonie, No.20 of the set, reveals Reicha’s sense of symmetry – 16 chords preface six fantasies – and the arresting strangeness and sheer modernity of the music, cast at points in deliberate quasi-improvisation, is reason enough, on its own, to lend an ear to what Reicha was achieving around 1803. The Capriccio (No.7) is ingeniously playful whilst No.4 is a fantasy on a single chord. The self-limiting harmony prods the performer to attempt to develop his own instrumental figuration. The effect on the listener is to bask in this radical, free-form kind of stimulus to the broadening of the executant’s imagination; remarkably the music still manages to sound fanfare-like and full of irrepressible brio. The Etude, Op.97 No.1 with which the disc ends is an example of fugal procedure seen through the prism of Reicha’s fantasia-driven imagination.

This is an auspicious start to what I hope proves to be a long-running sequence of discs. Ilić understands Reicha’s processes from the inside out and plays with great awareness of the radical elements in his music. That said, no musical consensus has yet emerged – because so little of it is known and performed, let alone recorded - as to how Reicha’s music should ‘go’ so we are in the hands of pianists like him to lead the way.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Dominy Clements (Recording of the Month)



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