Reicha: Wind Quintets

Thalia Ensemble
Linn Records CKD471

The name Antoine Reicha is one which has fairly comprehensively slipped between the floorboards of musical history, except for within one select circle of musicians, wind players. With them Reicha’s wind music, and in particular his wind quintets, has remained current and provides a useful and engaging programme filler. The present CD, part of the Thalia Ensemble’s prize for winning the 2013 York Early Music International Young Artists’ Competition, brings us two wind quintets and an Adagio for wind quartet and obligato cor anglais all played on period instruments of the early 19th century. This final detail may seem relatively unimportant in these days of the ubiquity of period performances, but in this case it was a major factor in my enjoyment of the CD. While tuneful and accessible, Reicha’s music is occasionally accused of blandness, but when the Thalia Ensemble moved into the more chromatic passages of these works the remarkable range of characteristics occasioned by fork fingerings and lippings up and down imbued the music with considerable individuality. Occasionally the tuning is a little bit uncomfortable, but as this is the direct result of playing the instruments Reicha knew and was writing for we can assume that these sour moments were part of his original intentions.

Perhaps any ‘blandness’ in performances of Reicha’s music nowadays should be put down to the regularising effect of modern woodwind instruments rather than any lack of imagination on the part of the composer. This tonal variety is further enhanced by the use of clarinets in C, Bb and A, standard practice at the time, but an issue which modern players tend to gloss over. Although details of the instruments the players use is sparse, I am guessing that Diederik Orné is using the bright C clarinet in the opening quintet and the mellower Bb in the second – the difference in tonal character is certainly considerable. And by the 1820s the mechanism of the Müller system clarinet was relatively advanced allowing for much improved intonation. As a flute player himself, Reicha writes beautifully for the flute, but what is perhaps most striking is his mastery of the wind quintet as an entity – perhaps not since Mozart and not until Nielsen did anyone write such accomplished chamber music for winds.

D. James Ross