They may be mere studies for the “Use of Young Composers”, but there is endless invention and delight to be found in Czech-born French composer Antoine Reicha’s 34 Études dans le Genre Fugué. Serbian-American pianist Ivan Ilić’s first volume devoted to Reicha’s solo piano works featured fantasies and a capriccio from 1803’s Practische Beispiele and the Grande Sonate and Sonata on a Theme of Mozart (both c.1805). This second volume comprises searching, sensitively-crafted performances of the first 13 preludes and fugues from Reicha’s Op. 97, published in 1817, as well as an early fugue from his 1807 Op. 36 set. Again, Ilic´ performs from modern editions published by Symétrie and edited by musicologist Michael Bulley.
A childhood friend of Beethoven, Reicha was no ordinary teacher, devoted to tradition but always open to innovation. His counterpoint students included Liszt, Berlioz, Gounod and Franck. As Ilić writes: “One might guess that a composer who spent so much time teaching the rules of a strict, complex musical style would write dry, lifeless music. The reality is that his music is full of wit and charm.”
Indeed it is. Many of the preludes, such as the nocturne-like Introduction or the wistful Air in G Major, are gentle and sweetly nostalgic; an E Major Lento even recalls Handel’s “Harmonious Blacksmith” air. Others, such as the A Major Allegretto or the A Minor Poco Allegretto are swifter, spinning dances from a single idea.
The fugues, whose themes are as varied and inventive as their treatment, are by turns ebullient and introspective. The first, which follows on from the E Minor Introduction, rushes inexorably towards its final chord with quasi-mechanistic fervour; later, Reicha leavens the lugubriousness of the A Minor prelude’s companion fugue with fluttering trills and turns. Bach is the presiding spirit. But the genius is all Reicha.