review

Anton Reicha, Woodwind Quintets Volume 1: opus 88. nos. 1&2 : Westwood Wind Quintet, Crystal Records CD261

This review was published on: December 17th 2013
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If you already have the preceding eleven CD’s of the Westwood Quintet’s complete Reicha set, you will probably want this one, which features the first two of his 24 compositions for this medium. If you are new to this composer, Op 88 no. 2 is a good place to start, with its delicious bassoon entry spanning almost three octaves, numerous catchy tunes well shared out between the instruments, rather early-Beethovenian middle movements, and helter skelter finale. Like the Krommer octets, this is perfect music for a good amateur group, as an opener to a more demanding professional concert, or simply as recorded background to a convivial meal. No. 2 is often shortened for performance, but the Westwoods play the original long version, complete with extra repeats and extended fugal sections. No. 1 is rather less evenly scored, spotlighting the flute, Reicha’s own instrument.

Born Bohemian (in the same year as his friend Beethoven) but settled in Paris from 1818 as professor of counterpoint, Reicha virtually invented the wind quintet with his ‘totally new creations’ and their ‘new, varied, and piquant effects’ which were ‘the talk of all Paris’ in the composer’s own none-too-modest words. He undoubtedly understood what his five instruments were best at and what to avoid, the horn solos being particularly skilfully incorporated into the texture, but calling for a real marriage of virtuosity and the chamber-music spirit. In fact I thought the horn playing was outstanding on this CD, and it is sad to read that the player died soon after the recording. The Westwood Quintet goes back an amazing 50 years, though the current clarinet and bassoon are comparative newcomers. Allowing for the hyperbole invariably lavished on any home-grown ensemble by American record companies, one can still appreciate the loving care and enjoyment that have gone into these performances. The substantial programme notes are genuinely informative about both composer and compositions, though I didn’t think the advertised ‘minimal processing’ of the sound and the use of ‘just intonation’ were all that noticeable; indeed the balance is better on the excellent version by the Michael Thompson Wind Ensemble on Naxos, which would probably remain my first choice by a small margin, at least for these two works. Reicha addicts should listen to both and decide for themselves.

John Playfair

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at 48 Henniker Point, Leytonstone Road, London, E15 1LQ. Email: finance (@) cassgb.org. Tel: 0845 644 0187

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