Reicha Rediscovered, Vol 2
Reicha: Studies in Fugal Style for Piano; Fugue No. 12, Op. 36
Ivan Ilić (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20033 62:33 mins
Born in 1770, the same year as Beethoven, Antoine Reicha was his childhood friend and played side by side with him in the Bonn court orchestra when they were 15; they remained friends in adulthood. But while Beethoven’s career as a composer took off like a rocket, Reicha’s was still-born, so he set out to earn his living as a teacher, leaving his compositions to the judgment of posterity. But he was clearly a brilliant teacher: as professor of counterpoint and fugue at the Paris Conservatoire, he taught Liszt, Franck, Gounod and Berlioz, the latter leaving a glowing testimonial to his imaginative and open-minded approach.
Last year the Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić released a first volume of Reicha’s piano music. The second volume confirms what the first suggested, which is that in this pianist Reicha’s music has the best possible advocate. Composed exactly two hundred years ago, these studies – each consisting of a prelude and a fugue – still await their breakthrough into the standard recital repertoire. But as Ilić shows, they are a revelation of what could still be done with this form, a century after Bach’s 48 but still in Bach’s sound world. Reicha plays clever games with form – everything from minuet, canon, chaconne, and gigue to invertible counterpoint – and hints by turns at Handel, Scarlatti, and – in the extraordinary 85-second closing fugue – Beethoven at his wittiest and grittiest. There’s always a trace of tongue-in-cheek in Reicha’s moments of apparent high seriousness, but when he lets his imagination flow – as in the 12 tiny variations crammed into three and a half minutes of the third Etude – his music is sweetly persuasive. Ilić plays with charm and transparent precision throughout.