Reicha: Fugues for piano/Langer

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

This disc answers the musical question “Who wrote the most demented fugues of all time?” The 36 fugues encompassing Antonîn Reicha’s Op. 36 reveal the composer’s fertile imagination and propensity for the strangest modulations this side of Gesualdo and Alkan operating on overload. In No. 5 (G major) Reicha subjects Bach’s original theme in the same key to delicious cross-rhythmic jiggery-pokery, winding down with a gentle, somewhat inconclusive cadenza. No. 7’s subject displaces the main theme of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony into a wandering chain of sequences. Listen to Reicha’s chromatic fugal treatment based on Scarlatti’s famous “Cat’s Fugue” theme, or to No. 12’s whacked-out subject alone, and you’ll swear you’re listening to Reger, not Reicha.

Pianist Milan Langer plays 20 of these rarely recorded gems as well as you’ll hear them on disc, with a well-rounded technique, robust tone, and scrupulous observance of Reicha’s quirky dynamic and articulation markings. His tempos tend to be conservative, which ensure admirable control and accuracy, yet a little more brashness and irreverence wouldn’t hurt. The wild 13th Fugue on two subjects, for example, sounds a shade sober for Reicha’s “giocoso e ben accentuato” directive, and the aforementioned No. 7’s ambling gait is hardly the Allegro Reicha asks for.

Still, Langer’s eloquent artistry makes a cogent case for these works and complements Tiny Wirtz’s CPO recording of all 36 fugues, abetted by Supraphon’s superior sonics. Perhaps a pianist from Hyperion’s super-stable (Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne, Piers Lane, or Marc-André Hamelin) can step up on behalf of Reicha’s Op. 36, or better yet, all 75-plus minutes of the composer’s even loopier magnum keyboard opus, L’Art de Varier Op. 57.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Wirtz (CPO)

ANTONÍN REICHA - Fugues for Piano Op. 36 (selection)

  • Milan Langer (piano)

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