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Christian Heinrich RINCK (1770-1846)
Chamber Music - Volume 1
Sonata for violin, violoncello and piano in D major [10:23]
Piano Trio, Op 32 No 1 in F major (1813) [5:11]
Piano Trio, Op 32 No 2 in G major (1813) [6:42]
Piano Trio, Op 32 No 3 in A major (1813) [5:42]
Sonate très facile for violin and piano in B flat major (1797) [14:29]
Piano Trio in E flat major (1803) [13:40]
Trio Parnassus
rec. 2019, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 9032171-6 SACD [56:09]

This new release on the MDG label, of the first volume of chamber music by Christian Heinrich Rinck, has appeared at an auspicious moment for the composer, given that he was born in 1770, and so, like Beethoven, would have been celebrating the 250th anniversary of their birth during 2020. However, pandemic or not, only a relatively small number of people would probably even have heard of Rinck, so any great celebrations for Beethoven’s fellow-countryman would certainly be far more low-key, were they to happen at all.

Johann Christian Heinrich Rinck, to afford him his full Christian names, was born in Elgersburg in present-day Thuringia, central Germany, and died in Darmstadt, aged 76. He studied with Johann Christian Kittel (1732–1809), a pupil of JS Bach, and eventually became Kantor at the music school in Darmstadt, where he was also a court organist from 1813. He composed prolifically, and an organ primer of his enjoyed wide popularity. Among his works is a set of Variations on Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman in 1828, based on a tune made familiar by Mozart around 1781 or 1782, and generally associated with the words ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’.

Not surprisingly, organ compositions figure most prominently in Rinck’s output, along with works for choir, while there is also a fair amount of chamber music. In the CD booklet, Rinck is described as ‘An artist personality between counterpoint and Biedermeier’, and this sums him up to perfection. In his necessarily more serious works for organ, for example, we have the organist and choirmaster employing and developing the same kinds of contrapuntal techniques and devices that Bach did before him. But at the same time, Rinck is reaching out to the Biedermeier period, an era in Central Europe between 1815 and 1848, during which the middle class grew in number, the arts appealed to common sensibilities, and to which the intimacy of chamber music was ideally suited. By doing so, Rinck clearly wants to demonstrate that he also has a humorous, easy-going side, to complement his academic and possibly more austere posture of court organist.

Each and every work on this first CD would attest to this lighter, humorous side, to which Rinck’s exclusive use of major keys throughout contributes significantly. The disc opens with a single work – presumably the opening Allegro of a projected Sonata in D major for violin, cello, and piano. The fact that Rinck doesn’t describe it as a Piano Trio movement is largely down to the fact that in essence it’s more a sonata for violin and piano, with the cello largely reinforcing the keyboard left hand, with just occasional opportunities to make its presence felt. The booklet informs us that the manuscript is from the archives of the ‘University of Yale’, and should ‘hopefully soon play a major role in concert life’. This highlights a couple of niggles I occasionally have with CD booklets, and the present one in particular. Firstly, there are a number of instances where it is clear that the English translation from, in this case, an original German text, has been made by someone whose first language is not English. Secondly, the writer tends to evaluate things more subjectively than objectively. True, the work is full of cheerful melodies, and some attractive textures, but it really doesn’t expand much on what Haydn had written in his early attempts at the piano trio genre.

The three Piano Trios, Op 32, that follow, were published as Trois Sonatas [sic] favorites pour le Piano-Forte avec accompagnement de Violin e Violoncelle ad libitum. Even here ‘Sonatas’ should have the French spelling ‘Sonates’ – which it is in the French translation, and German original. The English version even goes on to say that the first print dates from ‘1912’, which, of course, should be ‘1812’, which again is correct in the other two languages. Each of the three trios is a two-movement work – a conventionally-worked sonata-form Allegro, followed by a Rondo. Certainly from the listener’s point of view, the Rondos are all extremely catchy, and eminently enjoyable throughout. The Allegros complement them well, and would serve as good exemplars for students coming to grips with sonata form. In the first Trio, the piano tends to dominate matters, while, by the third there is clear evidence of a shift towards a more equal role for each player.

The six sonatas labelled très faciles, for violin and piano appeared in 1797, in two sets of three, and are among the earliest of Rinck’s works to be published. Again, the English text uniquely manages to omit the grave accent on très, both here, and when it appears later. The Sonata in B flat major – the first of the second set – is the first three-movement work on the CD, and opens with a business-like Moderato, thematically reminiscent of a major-key version of Beethoven’s Für Elise (1810), where the violin and piano essentially share most of the material, in the manner of any early Mozart work in the genre. The second movement is a delightful little Theme, followed by a short set of Variations, purely of the melodic variety, and all rounded off by a slightly up-tempo coda. The jaunty final Rondo in 6/8 ensures that the listener remains fully engaged right to final note. While the writing for either instrument is by no means virtuosic, it still has its tricky moments, suggesting that Rinck was thinking more of the musical content, than the ability level of the performers, when he described the whole set as ‘easy’.

At this point I was looking forward to hearing the final work on the CD – another three-movement offering, his Piano Trio in E flat, from 1803. I quickly returned to the CD booklet for some more specific background information, but, to my surprise, found that there was no mention of the work at all. After some lengthy investigation, I could see what had happened. Comparing the French translation, the German original, and this English translation, it appeared that a section of some 80 or so words in either foreign-language had simply disappeared from the English one. What initially averted me to this was the fact that the final sentence, which appeared to be referring to the Finale of the Sonata in B flat, describing it as Rinck coming ‘very close to Beethoven’s spirit’, just didn’t add up, given its far greater stylistic resemblance to Mozart.

The sentence was, in fact, intended to conclude the missing paragraph on the upcoming Piano Trio. For the sake of completeness, the missing English text informs us that the two Trios in E flat and D major respectively, are more extensive in terms of design overall, and are considered to be of greater importance than Rinck’s earlier, smaller-dimensioned trios. The Trio in E flat has three movements, as well as a short 30-second slow introduction to the opening Allegro. The ensuing Largo is essentially the first slow movement of the whole CD, but by way of its pulsating triplets, and steady triple beat, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The Finale certainly does look more towards Beethoven, and here Rinck eschews his usual final Rondo-form design, for a sonata-form movement instead. It is particularly in the highly-concise development section that the composer begins to flex his muscles, and where the minor tonality does play a far more important role than elsewhere on the CD.

To sum up, I must say that I have really enjoyed the whole listening experience, and am now very much looking forward to the next volume. The music is well crafted, easy on the ear, but with an evident sense of progression as Rinck’s output matures. Trio Parnassus’s playing is truly first class, and at all times they show such abundant empathy for Rinck’s music, and genuine enthusiasm in bringing it back to life. As for the recording itself, even when played on a standard CD-Player, there is such great presence, spatial positioning, and sound clarity which even go a fair way towards recreating a visual sense of the recording venue itself – the imposing edifice of a former Benedictine Monastery, and much favoured by the MDG label.

It may seem just a tad pedantic to pick a few holes in the CD booklet, as these, of course, have no significant influence whatsoever on the music, or the performance. But I think that, if you’re going to produce such an otherwise first-class product, featuring cutting-edge, multi-channel recording technology, then a little more meticulous scrutiny at the proofreading stage is surely not too much to ask for.

Philip R Buttall

Julia Galić (violin); Michael Groß (cello); Johann Blanchard (piano)

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