If you have heard of this Czech composer, it will only be as a friend of Beethoven’s or a teacher ofBerlioz and Liszt. If you’ve heard a note of his music before, I’d be surprised. And if you were to see something marked ‘volume 2’, you’d normally walk on by.
Please don’t. This is – I say it rarely – essential listening.
Reicha became Beethoven’s best mate when they were both 15, playing in the first violins of the Bonn orchestra. Reicha moved on to Paris, Beethoven to Vienna. They met up again in 1801 and for the next seven years dined together once a week at a Vienna tavern.
When Reicha re-entered his life, Beethoven had just finished his breakthrough set of Opus 18 string quartets. Reicha, impatient and musically incontinent, responded with six quartets Op. 48 and 49.
Recorded here for the first time, they take Beethoven’s classical language and push it through the Romantic barrier – so much so that you might be listening to an early draft of Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets. In other words, Reicha’s music sounds like the missing link between early and middle period Beethoven, a connection Toccata’s lucid sleeve notes are keen to hammer home.
The violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved, who has researched Reicha over several years, leads the Kreutzer Quartet in studio performances that jitter with discovery and possibility, aiming as best they can to recapture the frisson of Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, when music was about to make a decisive leap into the modern age. These two quartets are indispensable entry points into Beethoven’s inner world.