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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

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Antoine REICHA (1770-1836)
Rediscovered – Volume 1
Harmonie (1802) [9:13]
Grande Sonate (c.1805?) [26:32]
Capriccio (1803) [4:55]
Sonata on a Theme of Mozart (c.1805?) [19:01]
Fantaisie sue un seul accord (1803) [4:10]
╔tude, Op. 97 No. 1 [2:23]
Ivan Ilić (piano)
rec. 2017, Le Studio Ansermet, Geneva
CHANDOS CHAN10950 [66:47]

Think of Antoine Reicha and you will probably have in mind wind quintets and other chamber music, and not a great deal else. This first volume of his piano music from the pioneering Ivan Ilić shows that there is much more to Reicha than most of us had previously suspected.

A contemporary and friend of Beethoven, Reicha was a renowned figure in his musical world and much in demand as a teacher. After establishing a strong reputation in Germany he finally settled in France, in later years becoming a professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Paris Conservatoire and counting Berlioz, Gounod and Liszt among his students.

This recording is a collection of previously unpublished music composed in around 1800, when Reicha was branching out into writing theoretical treatises. The startling harmonic content of Harmonie and the other pieces from his ‘Practische Beispiele’ are related to this work. It’s worth knowing some of this context otherwise you may just think some of these pieces sound a bit bonkers. Harmonie for instance has hints of an Erik Satie sent back in time, investing time in unusual harmonic progressions and eccentric melodic variation while still inhabiting a world of virtuosity at the keyboard. Capriccio has an improvisatory feel while being written in strict sonata-allegro form, while the Fantaisie sue un seul accord goes in entirely the opposite direction to all of those unusual modulations, literally taking a single chord for a four-minute tour of stylistic variation and exploring the piano’s various registers.

The Grande Sonate is, as its title suggests, something of a virtuoso showpiece. Arpeggios and sweeps over the entire keyboard are part of a first movement that also retreats into utter simplicity at times, moving into unusual keys while retaining its connection with sonata form, at one point progressing into extreme tonal remoteness through successive chromatic shifts. The improvisatory Adagio has hints of Beethoven in its stretching of time, and the final Capriccio is full of rhythmic quirks and harmonic surprise.

The Sonata on a Theme of Mozart uses the March of the Priests from Act II of Die Zauberfl÷te, taking it through four fairly gentle variations in the first movement. This is followed by a minuet and trio that owes something to Reicha’s friend Haydn, though the unpredictable nature of its musical content prevents us entirely from confusing the two composers. The actual Rondo finale to this piece has been lost, so a substitute rondo from another loose manuscript has been pressed into service here. The final, gorgeously slow moving ╔tude is perhaps the most forward-looking of all of these pieces, predating Liszt in its chromatic movement and unusually intensifying harmonies.

As Louise Bernard de Raymond writes in the booklet, “at one and the same time strangely familiar yet completely original, the piano pieces presented here are a perfect reflection of the unclassifiable style of Antoine Reicha at the beginning of his career.” Such a raft of discoveries is rare in a single release of a well-known European 18-19th century musician, and we can only await further volumes with eager anticipation. Ivan Ilić is a superb performer and deserves noisy acclaim for his presentation of these unknown realms in music, and with Chandos’ usual high quality standard of recording I can add nothing beyond urging as many of you as possible to join in with this fascinating journey.

Dominy Clements

 




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