Reinecke: Complete Violoncello Sonatas / Manuel Fischer-dieskau, Connie Shih

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For British listeners, the name of Reinecke is likely to evoke Stanford’s recollection - after an uninspiring period of study with him - that “of...
For British listeners, the name of Reinecke is likely to evoke Stanford’s recollection - after an uninspiring period of study with him - that “of all the dry musicians I have ever known, he was the most desiccated”. Scandinavians will remember that Grieg thought no better of the man and that for Svendsen, “not only is he envious and bloodless … he is also in the highest degree villainous”. Yet many musicians sought him out during his long reign at the Leipzig Gewandhaus (1860-1895), including Sullivan, Bruch, Delius and the three just mentioned, while Elgar travelled to Leipzig in 1882 to hear him conduct.
If this all suggests a plodding academic, the “Undine” Sonata for flute and piano, the one work by Reinecke that remains at least on the fringe of the repertoire, is neither academic nor lacking in fantasy. A disc containing the First Symphony, the Violin Concerto and some smaller pieces suggested to me that further examination of Reinecke would be never less than pleasant, if hardly thrilling. Maybe thrilling would be too strong a word for these cello sonatas too, but they do suggest he was more inspired in chamber music than in larger orchestral pieces.
In some ways the first sonata is the most attractive of all. Its ballad-like opening theme immediately catches the attention and the second theme is not only well contrasted, it is introduced in a very remote tonality indeed. What is striking about this movement is the mastery with which it combines free-flowing, rhapsodic feeling with tight formal control. Though Reinecke is said to have looked back to Mendelssohn and Schumann for his models, and certainly rejected Liszt and Wagner, his music combines romantic spirit with an intuitive sense of form. Here, at least, he was able to make his own personal fusion of classical ideals and romantic freedom. The second movement also contains a number of quite contrasting ideas and the finale has much surging passion.
The claims of the second sonata are not to be underestimated, either. After a short but brooding introduction the first movement leads off with a pithy, expressive idea that revolved in my head for some days afterwards. Again, Reinecke’s formal control is tight even while the effect is of free rhapsody. The themes tend not to appear and reappear in the expected places and tonalities, and are inclined to undergo transformations just where an exact recapitulation might seem in sight. The second movement is marked “Quasi fantasia” and has much soaring romantic melody. The finale starts with a catchy tune but is inclined to chase its own tail a bit too much for its own good. This, admittedly, is a common failing among 19th century finales when not written by Brahms.
Altogether, it may be said that, if Reinecke did not revolutionize sonata forms, he nevertheless evolved an intuitively inventive way of reinterpreting received formal wisdom. The interesting thing is that exactly the same thing could be said about his grudging pupil Stanford’s chamber music, even down to a tendency to write finales that chase their own tail. One is bound to wonder if Reinecke’s music did not have a greater influence on Stanford than he later cared to admit, having been so disappointed by the man himself. Also common to both composers is a complete equality between the two partners, with plenty of challenging material for both players and a continual melodic interplay that must make Reinecke’s chamber music rewarding to perform. Ultimately, I suppose this music inhabits smiling valleys and pleasant domestic surroundings rather than soar above the mountain peaks, but we can surely find a place for music that does this so attractively.
The third sonata arouses more ambivalent reactions. Dedicated “to the shade of Brahms”, who had just died, its formal mastery will not be questioned. Furthermore, while in one sense it occupies harmonic ground solidly rooted in Schumann, its restless modulations look ahead to the world of Reger. It is a bitter, even vehement work by a composer whose art was by then left high and dry by musical progress. The only problem is that Reinecke’s easy flow of melodic inspiration seems to have dried up. The themes are clear-cut and functional, but neither the composer’s masterly development of them, nor these performers’ imagination and conviction, can hide the fact that the cupboard is a little bare. Only the second theme of the finale recalls the warmth of earlier years. Nevertheless, as often with late works by composers clinging to the style of their youth in the teeth of what they perceive as ugly modernism, the sense of isolation and disillusionment can be moving in themselves. Here, too, the case of Stanford is an obvious parallel.
Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, just in case you’ve been wondering, is the great baritone’s son. It would seem that interventionism, as an interpretative creed, runs in the family. But, like his father at his best, MF-D knows how to intervene in a way that brings the music to life, and he extracts the maximum range of expression from these scores. The Canadian pianist Connie Shih has an easy technical command and a well-rounded tone in the heavier moments. She and the cellist seem in full agreement over how to play this music. They leave me wondering why the first two sonatas, at least, never made it into the not very large repertoire of romantic cello sonatas.
Cellists reading these words may be wondering where they can get the scores. They will be delighted to find that the IMSLP-Petrucci Library, a great Internet resource, apparently offers all three for free download. They will be a bit less delighted when they find that the file of no.1 is missing pages 4-15, jumping from the first page of the first movement to the last page of the second, so you get only the finale complete. Also, there’s not a cello part, instead there’s an alternative violin part. The second sonata is complete but the piano part of no.3 lacks the last page, or maybe the last two. In compensation you get pages 10 and 11 twice. I used to think that people who do things for love not money do them properly, but on this showing even some who work for love are as slap-happy as any half-hearted employee anxious for the next coffee break. Granted, one shouldn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, but we may reasonably check that it has all four legs.
None of this little grumble, obviously, affects the value of this finely recorded and excellently annotated disc of three cello sonatas well worth investigating. The name of Reinecke is beginning to come alive for me.
-- Christopher Howell, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 01, 2011

  • UPC: 760623166124

  • Catalog Number: 6031661-2

  • Label: MDG

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Carl Reinecke

  • Performer: Connie Shih, Manuel Fischer-Dieskau