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Antoine REICHA (1770-1836)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 2
Six Fugues, Op.81 (pub.c.1810) [25:38]
Étude de Piano ou 57 Variations sur un même thème, suivies d’un Rondeau, Op.102 (pub. c.1824) [42:28]
Henrik Löwenmark (piano)
rec. 2007, Hurstwood Farm, Borough Green, Kent; 2015, Llandaff Cathedral School, Cardiff

The first volume in Toccata’s Reicha piano series (see review) – there have a simultaneous String Quartet marque on the go as well – presented three sonatas, Op.45 and two Fantasies, Op.59. It’s part of a project to record all the composer’s piano works, an adventurous and worthwhile undertaking. Like so much else in the label’s undertakings both the works in volume two are heard in premiere recordings.

The Six Fugues were published around 1810 in Paris soon after the composer’s return to the city after a period of years away in Vienna. In his erudite notes, pianist Henrik Löwenmark refers to Reicha’s autobiography in which he relates that he wrote fugues whenever there was a compositional lull. This means accurate dating of the works is all but impossible but conjecturally they may have been written during his Viennese sojourn between 1802 and 1808. In any case Reicha was an inveterate, almost obsessive composer of fugues and whilst the Op.81 set is hardly revolutionary, a case can be made for their being ‘concert fugues’. It’s noticeable that textures are fuller here than one might otherwise expect from him and the keyboard compass is exploited more dramatically. The first fugue is notably powerful, the second has romantic affiliations and the fourth – playful and fast – develops a confident profile possibly reminiscent of Fux. The final fugue’s elegance is enhanced by a strongly introspective element. Given various interrelations between the fugues it’s likely they were written at around the same time and not piecemeal.

After the well-developed fugues come the little-known Étude de Piano ou 57 Variations sur un même thème, suivies d’un Rondeau, Op.102. The title alludes to the far better known L’Art de Varier ou 57 Variations pour le Piano-Forte, Op.57 which had been published two decades before. It’s only in recent years that a modern edition of the Op.102 has been published so perhaps that and this recording will stimulate interest in what is one of the relatively few large-scale variation cycles between the Goldbergs and Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes of 1834-35. The theme is by Grétry and the variations offer succinct - in this recording only two variations breach the 60-second mark – pleasures. These elements include the delicious melody line of variation 23, or the deft, dappled treble in Variation 31, the undulating bass line of No.38 – one of a number of variations to bear a name, in this case Pastorale. There’s a country feel to No.41 and a witty pairing of Nos. 50 and 51, the latter marked Le Badinage and with good reason. No.54, Le Désespoir is urgent and dynamic. In outline the model is far more Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, or maybe the Eroica variations, than the Goldberg. The music is charming, full of musical panache and key interrelations and alternations.

The performances make the best case possible for the music with sympathetic playing throughout. A brief postscript: don’t be confused by the disc’s total timing. It’s actually 68 minutes, not the claimed 78.

Jonathan Woolf



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