Reinecke 2 Piano Works CPO 555454-2

Carl Reinecke (1824-1910)
Complete Works for Two Pianos
Genova & Dimitrov Piano Duo
rec. 2021/22, WDR Funkhaus, Köln, Germany
cpo 555 454-2 [3 CDs:189]

Considering his fame in the 19th century relatively little of Carl Reinecke’s music is heard nowadays; it is only his Undine Sonata for flute and piano that has a firm foothold in the repertoire. Among his 300 plus works are a large number of piano works – Reinecke was an excellent pianist – and it appears strange that they remain completely ignored; a couple of pieces at most have been recorded on small labels and I have heard the Sonata for left hand Op 179 once in concert, but Reinecke must be unique in that his piano concertos and two piano repertoire are available before his solo piano works have been explored. The performers on this excellent release describe Reinecke and his music as one of the greatest surprises and discoveries of our musical career and these three CDs have given me similar pleasure. I knew a couple of these works already; the early Andante with Variations and Sarabande variations appear on a Nimbus disc (NI5996 review review) and a 1993 recording by Thomas Hitzlberger and Georg Schütz (CPO999106-2 not reviewed) features another version of the Andante with Variations as well as the Manfred Impromptu Op 66 and La Belle Griselidis.

The Andante with Variations is the earliest work here, written around the same time as Schumann’s Andante and Variations Op 46. Reinecke had moved to Leipzig in 1843, a city whose musical giants were Mendelssohn and Schumann, both of whom Reinecke revered and though a chronology of the two works is not clear the influences are. The theme of Reinecke’s could easily be a song by Schumann and Reinecke brings this back at the end with a tranquil coda as does Schumann. Though many of the variations could have come from Schumann’s pen, Reinecke must be praised for the imagination and variety of piano textures he employs – I personally find these more inventive than Schumann’s set and I particularly love the variation immediately prior to the quiet ending with its delicate waltz figurations and humorously boisterous fugue. Some 15 years later Reinecke returned to Schumann, this time taking a movement from the dramatic musical poem Manfred, premiered 4 years before the composer’s death. The movement in question, No 6, is headed in both Schumann and Reinecke’s score with the words calling of the alpine fairy and in keeping with that, Reinecke has written a delightful extended scherzo/moto perpetuo. Continuing the theme of borrowing from other composers Genova & Dimitrov play the Concert Allegro after the finale of Mozart’s 19th Piano Concerto, a work that also inspired a more familiar two piano version by Reinecke pupil Ferrucio Busoni; it is a relatively straightforward transcription though Reinecke fills out the parts, adding some counterpoint to the semiquaver figurations and writes his own extended cadenzas. It is worth noting perhaps that Reinecke’s Op 87 comprises cadenzas to twenty of Mozart’s concertos as well as those by Beethoven, Bach and Weber.

Of his original works for the genre there are more variations. Op 24 is based on the sarabande from the D minor French Suite by Bach. Once again one wonders why two piano teams haven’t explored this music; I glanced back at a review of this piece played in Nimbus records’ Röntgen series (NI5996) and was highly impressed now as then with the invention and imagination of the writing. Gluck’s Gavotte offered inspiration for a later set of variations in all but name, the Improvisata on a Gavotte by Chr. Gluck. Brahms’ once famous transcription was published in 1872, the year before these variations and one wonders if that sparked Reinecke’s interest. Certainly these are delightful variations; the sixth variation with its triplets dancing over the theme is just one of the charms of this set. His Variations on Luther’s chorale Eine feste Burg are a transcription of an orchestral set and are perhaps unsurprisingly more serious in tone though a variation with some precipitous semiquaver writing is followed by a wonderfully tranquil intermezzo. The Hallelujah chorus then makes an entrance and Reinecke interweaves this with the Luther’s chorale melody for an energetic finale. Possibly his most engaging set of variations is La Belle Griselidis based on a 17th century French folk-song; with its virtuosic and often quite light-hearted writing I am reminded of Saint-Saëns – lots of swirling triplets and grand gestures and a glorious moment when the theme switches to A major amid cascades of descending piano figuration only to side-step into F major a few bars later.

His other original works include three sonatas for two pianos and two sets of short character pieces.

The four pieces that make up his Pictures from the South date from his time in Leipzig as conductor of the Gewandhaus orchestra. South in this case is Italy and after a gentle barcarolle there is a similarly lilting and poetic Under the Cypresses, a slightly melancholy evocation. The mood is entirely different and we travel west for the third piece, Bolero, fizzing with energy for all its minor key. The final piece, Neapolitan mandolin player, is a fast, vigorous dance that bounces joyfully long, a mock baroque rigaudon dressed up in 19th century finery; this would make a great encore piece. Later in life Reinecke enjoyed duo performances with his pupil Fritz von Bose (1865-1945) – when Reinecke was 81 they gave a performance of Mozart’s two piano concerto K.365 under Artur Nikisch. The Sonatas and four pieces Op 241 would presumably have written for this partnership. The four pieces are more light-hearted than the earlier Pictures from the South; a quicksilver etude full of fleet triplet figuration is followed by a jolly minuet. A short scherzo in canon form and an untitled piece full of Mendelssohnian joi de vivre complete the set. From the same period, the year between 1898 and 1904 come the three sonatas for two pianos. Sonatas do not feature prominently in the two piano repertoire; there is Mozart’s familiar Sonata in D and Poulenc’s Sonata from 1953, but little is known in-between. These three engaging works are not going to topple either work; they are engaging and though they tread no new ground. Reinecke certainly had a gift for idiomatic writing and melody. There is a generally pastoral feel to much of the writing – the first movements of Op 240 and Op 275, No 1 as well as the slow movement of Op 275, No 2 in particular and one can imagine that the very mid 19th century writing would come across as rather old-fashioned at the turn of the century; still there is a youthfulness to the music of the composer who was now in his seventies. Generally the meat of the pieces is in the finales and I particularly like the rustic dance that closes the first of the Op 275 sonatas. The minuet of the second Op 275 sonata, the menuetto e Paduana is interesting in that after the minuet gives way to the paduana – actually a quite sprightly pavane – the minuet returns played alongside the pavane with each pianist taking a dance, playing in duple time and triple time simultaneously.

Three final pieces here are transcriptions of orchestral music. The Overture to Klein’s Tragedy Zenobia comes from incidental music to the Munich revival of Klein’s play in 1885. A foreboding opening leads into a dramatic section characterised by stabbing chords, rising motifs and dotted rhythms. The introduction of triplet lines does nothing to ease the dramatic tension but the passion cools a little and towards the end the mood grows more optimistic with the appearance of a noble theme that sings alongside fragments of the earlier themes. The Festive Overture was dedicated to the musicians of the Gewandhaus Orchestra that Reinecke was music director of from 1860 until 1895. The music is reminiscent of Wagner from the very opening and is generally rather jubilant in tone. Finally there is his Prologus Solemnis in the form of an overture written in 1893 for the anniversary of the Gewandhaus; again there is an element of Wagner in the energetic writing and despite the title the music is as triumphal and genial as anything on these discs.

I was enthusiastic about the two previous releases by this enterprising duo, comprising Aglika Genova (piano) and Liuben Dimitrov (piano), (the complete Rachmaninoff duo and two piano cpo 5553262 review and Amy Beach cpo 5554532 review) and this release is every bit as enjoyable. Their sound is warm and rich and the music glows under their fingers – their enthusiasm for this music oozes from every bar. For the majority of the pieces here there are no alternatives so the set is self-recommending in that respect and they do not suffer in comparison with the alternatives mentioned above. A very welcome release.

Rob Challinor

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Andante with Variations Op 6 (1844)
La Belle Griselidis
, improvisation on a 17th century French folk-song Op 94 (1868)
Sonata Op 275 No 1 in G major (c.1905)
Festive Overture for large orchestra Op 148
Variations on a Sarabande by J. S. Bach Op 24 (1849)

Four Pieces Op 241 (c.1898-1904)
Impromptu on a motif from Schumann’s Manfred Op 66 (1859)
Sonata Op 275 No 2 in C major (c.1905)
Concert Allegro after the finale of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 19
Overture to Klein’s Tragedy Zenobia for large orchestra Op 193 (1887)

Prologus Solemnis
Op 223 (c.1893)
Sonata Op 240a In F major (pub. Late 1890s)
Zur Reformationsfeier
, Variations on Luther’s chorale Eine feste Burg Op 191 (1886)
Pictures from the South
, Four Fantasy Pieces Op 86 (1865)
Improvisata on a Gavotte by Chr. Gluck Op 125 (1873)