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Antoine REICHA (1770-1836)
Rediscovered - Volume 2
Études dans le genre Fugué Nos 1-13, Op 97 (1815-17) [61:05]
Fugue, Op 36 No 12 [1:25]
Ivan Ilić (piano)
rec. 2018, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20033 [62:35]

This is fascinating music. The “rediscovery” element of the disc title is that this composer, for so long associated with recreational wind quintets, has so much to offer in the field not just of piano music, but of so-called “learned” piano music. This is a sequence of fugal etudes, and for Reicha, counterpoint was the mainstay of his teaching; and there is an undeniable mastery of contrapuntal process in evidence. Reicha was appointed Professor of Counterpoint and Fugue at the Paris Conservatoire in 1818, the year after the present set was composed.

This is not a sole pianist-led rediscovery, however: over on the ever-enterprising Toccata label, Henrik Löwenmark is essaying a survey of Reicha’s keyboard music, including a complementary set of Fugues (Op. 81) in his second volume. Ivan Ilić has boundless enthusiasm for this music, as a recital around his first volume at the French Institute in South Kensington (part of the All About Piano! Festival) in 2017 clearly revealed.

Each pairing of Prelude and Fugue offers proof of Reicha’s imagination, as does the almost tissue-delicate, music-box intimacy of the set of variations that functions as the Prelude to the third offering here. The key of C minor occasions Beethovenian exploration in the Fugue proper. It is commendably difficult to isolate which aspect of Reicha is more impressive, the limpid side (try the Poco allegretto” of the F minor/major pairing, No. 6) or the rigorously rugged. What is clear is that Reich’s resonance with the nature of particular key centres is marked (the brightness of the F major Fugue, for example, brilliantly done here, Ilic’s staccato in the fugue subject pure delight, or the limpid “Air” that functions as the Prelude for the E major Fugue, No. 4, wherein Reicha dares to give us the barest of textures).

The G major pairing is delightful (No. 8), while Ilić finds a real level of sophistication in the A major fugue of No. 7; he finds great interior expression in the Lento Air from the G minor pairing, also; while the G minor Fugue (No. 9) reminds us of Ilić’s magnificent finger strength.

Ilić also finds a perfect way to present the intriguing pairing of No. 12 (E major), which begins with another “Air” marked Lento, but emerges in the fashion of a (J. S.) Bach chorale before leading into a jauntier, more playful Fugue. Reicha’s final offering (A minor) begins with a mock-Handelian grandeur.

Ilić’s left-hand trills in the Lento A minor Fugue (No. 11) are remarkable for their evenness and charm. The quirky intervallic leaps of that Fugue’s prefatory Poco Allegretto (No. 11) actually makes a rather nice link to Ilić’s encore, a forward-looking, restless Fugue, Op. 36/12, written at least 12 years earlier than Op. 97 and which finds the individuality of C. P. E. Bach transplanted into a later era.

A fabulous disc, brilliantly recorded by the Chandos team at Potton Hall.

Colin Clarke
Previous reviews: Dominy Clements ~ Philip R Buttall

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