The three sonatas on this disc cover about 50 years of Reinecke's long life, from the late 1840's to 1897. To put the matter briefly, if you like the chamber works of Brahms and Schumann, you will like this, and you will recognize where Reinecke's musical affiliations lie. By the end of the century, Reinecke was coming in for criticism for being too timid and conservative in his composition, but so what: he was clearly an accomplished and diligent composer, even if not a highly original one. These three sonatas, all coming in at around 20 minutes are well-crafted, with appealing thematic material that is never developed in a merely mechanical fashion: there's plenty of incident and surprise in the working out, and to my ears, the piano parts are particularly grateful, giving the pianist opportunities for a whole range of effects, from delicate lyricism to explosive interruptions of the cello line. The cello writing exploits the cantabile capacities of the instrument, and tends to exploit the rich middle and lower register. The strengths and limitations of the music can be heard in the final sonata, written as a kind of elegy to Brahms in 1897, shortly after Brahms's death. It's a beautiful piece, but it charms the ear more than it touches the heart. The most plangent moments in the central andante mesto sound mesto (sad), but the movement has a whole has quite a bit of variety, and the overall effect isn't all that tragic. In fact, the adagio introduction to the first movement comes closer to that. The third movement is totally delightful, with plenty of charm, energy, and variety.
The playing seems very fine -- Connie Shih is a young Canadian pianist, and she has the wherewithal to meet all the challenges here, with playing that is always beautiful. Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, son of the great baritone, plays with spirit and rich tone. Best of all, they are given superb balance and spectacular sound by the Dabringhaus and Grimm engineers. I had recently played the Brahms cello sonatas in Kovacevich and Harrell's EMI recording, and the sound here is so much superior that EMI should be ashamed of themselves. I recommend this highly -- it's a lovely disc.