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Antoine REICHA (1770-1836)
Complete Piano Music - Volume 1
Sonata in G major, Op.46 No.1 (c.1802-04) [17:22]
Sonata in B flat major, Op.46 No.2 (c.1802-04) [18:18]
Sonata in E major, Op.46 No.3 (c.1802-04) [21:30]
Two Fantasias, Op.59 (c. 1797 pub 1805) [11:03]
Henrik L÷wenmark (piano)
rec. April 2007, Hurstwood Farm, Borough Green, Kent (Op.46 No.2 slow movement and Op.59 No.1); December 2015, Llandaff Cathedral School, Cardiff, UK
TOCCATA TOCC0008 [67:49]

The Czech-born Antoine Reicha (AntonÝn Rejcha) is more remembered as a colleague and teacher than as a composer in his own right. He tends to appear as part of the Bohemian diaspora, befriending eminent contemporaries such as Haydn and Beethoven, and teaching the firebrand geniuses of a younger generation, such as Berlioz and Liszt. His music remained fitfully influential but that for keyboard has faded, other than a set of fugues, to a significant extent. In fact, the set of Op.46 sonatas in this disc is apparently heard in a first-ever recording.

The sonatas can’t be dated with precision but the years around or just after 1800 seems stylistically apt. All are three-movement works. He has a trick of changing the ordering of his themes in recapitulations that serves to destabilise expectations and intrigue the ear. It’s one mark of a quixotic approach to structure that informs these works. The G major is pithy and has a kind of insistent bravado in the chording of its flourish-heavy opening Allegro. The slow movement plumbs no great expressive depths - it’s almost tersely withdrawn, in fact - but there is delicate right hand tracery to compensate. The finale evokes the dapperly witty Haydn. Despite the relatively compressed opening of the B flat major, it moves from lightness to embody more Sturm und Drang elements whilst the slow movement is more intriguing for its ‘orchestral’ employment of choirs; the bass, treble-as-winds, and freshly rolled chords that amplify and give bodily weight to the bigness of the conception. After which the finale’s rustic drone ends the work with alpine freshness.

The E major reflects the scheme that Reicha has for these sonatas – a somewhat questioning, even innovative structural approach in first movements, elegantly non-committal slow movements and an unfettered finale. Here, too, there are structural idiosyncrasies – he is certainly not one to go by the book. The recapitulation is charmingly done here.

Though the two Fantasias, Op.59 were published in 1805 they probably date from c.1797. Spontaneous-sounding, with rhetorical pauses, the C major shows Reicha at his most fluid and lyrical whilst the companion F major is rather hymnal - with an agitated section to provide contrast.

Henrik L÷wenmark has clearly made quite a study of Reicha’s chamber music and his notes offer a well-written and detailed appraisal.

The recording balance has managed to accommodate two different locations and a time frame that stretches from 2007 to 2015. I assume L÷wenmark re-recorded the outer movements of Op.46 No.2 as the sonata’s slow movement remains from the earlier session – but maybe not.

Jonathan Woolf



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