Reicha Complete Wind Quintets, Vol.5
Berlioz has left a lively portrait of Reicha in Chapter 13 of the Memoirs (Gollancz: 1969), praising his counterpoint teaching and his knowledge of the ''individual scope and possibilities'' (ressources particulieres) of most of the wind instruments, though later describing the wind quintets as ''interesting but a little cold''. The latter adjectives seems rather hard. The prospect of all 25 of them (plus some extra bits and pieces) on ten CDs may seem a somewhat daunting one; but taking them gradually, one can find plenty of reasons for them to have interested Berlioz and can begin to see why they had a certain vogue in Paris in those years. No wonder that Berlioz, especially, admired Reicha's enterprise in exploring novel structures, ones suggested to him by the particular possibilities of the wind quintet. It is a sonority that can easily pall; Reicha's ingenuity, as well as his skill with timbres, sees to it that there is much to entertain and amuse, as well as to stimulate the mind.
Listened to fairly casually, even as background music (and why not?), they are highly agreeable furnishing. Given more careful attention, a good deal of originality emerges. One of the quintets played by both the Albert Schweitzer Quintet and the Prague Academia Wind Quintet, Op. 88 No. 5, provides an example of this. The first movement sets off as if going to be in sonata form; but it soon emerges that Reicha is more concerned to use the sharply contrasting sonorities of the different instruments in various groupings, and hence to make the movement sustain its momentum by combining and recombining them in new ways. Themes that seem independent turn out to contribute to and be part of each other, in the case of this movement one that is predominantly rhythmic, one melodic, one chordal. Put like that, perhaps it does seem 'cold'; familiarity brings admiration for the wit with which it is done. Reicha's famous skill as a contrapuntalist helps here. The first movement of the other work played by both groups, Op. 91 No. 5, is even more ingenious, and warrants an elucidatory diagram in the booklet.
Of the two groups of players, the Academia are rather more direct, even coarse in a robust and sympathetic manner; but it is the Albert Schweitzer players who get more of the entertainment value, the dramatic surprises, the delayed action realizations of what Reicha is up to. These are fascinating works for a view of what one extremely intelligent, able musician was exploring during the years of early romanticism; and though taking them at a sitting is scarcely advised, those who have given, say, Vol. 1 (3/89), a try, should find a lot of enjoyment to be had with these three. The playing continues to be lively, friendly and bright; Reicha does not spare his players, but these (and they include a fearless horn) are well up to it.'