With Ars Productions

Anton Reicha: variations and grand quintet

Chamber music for bassoon and strings
Grand quintet for solo bassoon accompanied by 2 violins, viola and cello:
allegro moderato
lento arioso
Allegro assai
Finale Presto

Bassoon – Jane Gower
Violin – Madeleine Easton
Violin – Alice Evans
Viola – Galina Zinchenko
Cello – Catherine Jones

Review by Andreas Grabner

Bayerischer Rundfunk Klassik (Bavarian Radio) CD Tips
“island” – so did their country of origin play a role in the choice of this ensemble’s name? Well, why not for once consider Australia as a pretty big island?

Because the five members of “Island” are originally from Australia: they underwent their musical training there, and even now some work there – for example the cellist of the ensemble is the principal cellist of the Australian Opera. (!!!) For the finishing touches, however, they gravitated to the Old World, in particular to the Royal Conservatorium in the Hague, considered along with the Schola Cantorum in Basel as one of the leading European educational institutions for the study of historical performance practice. It was there that the bassoonist Jane Gower founded “Island”. On the face of it, with an unusual mission: to sniff out the largely forgotten repertoire for bassoon and strings, to perform it and to record it – in many cases first recordings (performances) with the original sound.

Golden era of chamber music

And this repertoire is more wide-ranging and of higher quality than might be commonly supposed. The golden era of chamber music for solo wind instruments and strings reaches from Mozart until after Schubert – in other words, into the early Romantic period. If Mozart himself unfortunately omitted to provide the bassoon, of all the wind instruments, with a quartet or quintet, others made good the lack. Franz Danzi, François Devienne and Franz Krommer in particular wrote music that is original and full of character as “Island” has demonstrated so far in its three beautiful CD recordings. Their new CD adds another treasure to these: the “Grand Quintet for bassoon, two violins, viola and violoncello” in Bb by Anton Reicha, produced in 1828 and thereby the last work of the composer, who devoted the remaining ten years of his life exclusively to teaching.

Reicha, the great European music intellectual, the brilliant contrapuntalist and admired professor at the Paris Conservatoire, the radical experimenter who undertook to lay down fundamentally new definitions of such concepts as fugue, sonata form and variation, the restless composer who wrote twelve operas, eight symphonies, twenty string quartets and the twenty-eight wind quintets that have made him famous: the highly individual, almost extreme artistic personality, whose importance even today has not been satisfactorily weighed. Here, in the late bassoon quintet, one senses little of the inner tensions and eccentricities in the life of its creator. The work is relaxed, unfolding in wide arcs and with long compositional breaths – one might almost say with the wisdom of age (maturity).

Definitive recording

Jane Gower charms from her historical bassoon a fine, mobile, silvery iridescent tone which blends (lies) excellently with the string instruments. Furthermore, Gower’s mercurial yet subtle temperament exposes nuances of humour and sweet melancholy within Reicha’s music that one fails to hear in the few recordings available for comparison. The work is revealed as a profound, deeply-felt composition, a masterpiece. Is it going too far to use the term “definitive recording” with reference to a composition that seems to lie outside the accepted canon of chamber music repertoire? Not at all: this is it.



This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.