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Reicha: Woodwind Quintets Vol 2 / Westwood Wind Quintet

Reicha / Westwood Wind Quintet
Release Date: 01/04/2011 
Label:  Crystal   Catalog #: 262   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Antoine Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westwood Wind Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 57 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

REICHA Woodwind Quintets, op. 88 : No. 3 in G; No. 4 in d Westwood Wind Qnt CRYSTAL 262 (57:02)

As you can see by the dates for Anton Joseph Reicha (1770–1836), the man witnessed the culmination of the Classical period and saw the first inroads into the Romantic. While his music is classically based, relying on traditional models and a pretty consistent use of sonata form, it is tinged in spots with the new romanticism, not like that of Berlioz Read more (who was one of his pupils at the Paris Conservatory) or even Liszt, but certainly along the lines of Mendelssohn and Schumann, though the latter’s hyper-involved sense of pathos eluded the more conservative Reicha. He did have some progressive tendencies, especially in the area of teaching composition, but by and large the man whom Beethoven praised and had become inseparable from Haydn, acting as a sort of secretary for him—even to the point of turning down an invitation from the court of Prussia because he did not wish to leave his master—restrained himself from jumping on the full-fledged romantic bandwagon.

Reicha worked hard at his craft, and he tells us that in his early years he could barely remember enough to complete a four-bar phrase, but later he could retain up to a 150-bar phrase in his memory for some time without even writing it down. His stated goal, when he finally turned to writing his 24 woodwind quintets, was to make the genre as viable as the string quartet. If he ultimately failed in this it can hardly be laid at his door—the very nature of the string quartet and the proliferation of string instrumental pieces would be too much for a group of woodwinds to overcome. But it was not for want of trying, and these 24 quintets are absolute masterpieces, symphonic in scope and as complex as anything being done in the symphonic world at that time.

Though this is only Volume 2 of the Reicha series by the Westwood Quintet, it is the penultimate one to be released. The six op. 88s are a curious bunch, perhaps more so than any of the others, and the G Major given here, while not without a lot of interest, strikes me as a little flippant and insecure in places. Though the booklet notes generously describe it as “most charming” and “filled with glorious melody,” I think that the charm and glory are a little understated by Reicha, who sometimes can slip back into parlor-schlock, if a very clever parlor-schlock, and just avoids a full-fledged relapse in this work. He never quite gets there, though there is much to enjoy.

But compared to the D-Minor No. 4, the inspiration and inventiveness is clearly missing. Here we see what the composer is really capable of, using a marvelous economy of means to achieve some quite intriguing results, including a gorgeous slow-movement theme and four variations whose intricacies belie the shortness of its eight-minute length. This is Reicha at his considerable best.

There is not much to say about the performances. Fanfare has been divided on them, and you can peruse the back issues for opinions and alternatives (of which there are not many as far as completeness goes). The presentation quality of these releases is exemplary, with superb notes and quotes from Reicha’s biography.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Woodwind Quintet in G major, Op. 88/3 by Antoine Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westwood Wind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1810s 
Venue:  Crystal Chamber Hall, Camas, WA 
Length: 25 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Woodwind Quintet in D minor, Op. 88/4 by Antoine Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westwood Wind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1817 
Venue:  Crystal Chamber Hall, Camas, WA 
Length: 30 Minutes 38 Secs. 

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