Susan Kagan is a pianist and critic (Fanfare) whose credits
include recordings with the great violinist Josef Suk. Her Ph.D.
dissertation focused on the music of Archduke Rudolph. She co-edited
the scores of the present works with Allan Badley (available on
Kagan also provides the knowledgeable booklet notes here.
The Op. 11 Sonatas
were written when Ries was living in Paris - they were not published
until 1816. Ries’ music sits somewhere in between Beethoven
and the early Romantics. In the first movement of the first
sonata we hear, Op. 11/2, there are some very proto-Schubertian
spread chords early on, but the unrest of the development section
clearly comes from a Beethovenian direction. The central Larghetto
is expressive and lends itself to ever more elaborate embellishment.
Kagan is superb at the decorations but seems less convincing
in the simpler opening. This movement actually reveals depths
one might not expect from this composer. The finale is along
the lines of a tarantella, with its typical unwillingness to
slow down and draw breath. The Sonata op. 11/1, which follows
in the playing order, boasts a calm first movement that speaks
more of breadth than of drama. Kagan is in her element here
– she is a musical, gentle player – just as she is in the delicacy
of the central Andante which has just the right amount of forward
movement to it. The finale is a set of variations on a Russian
melody. It’s a melody used again in Ries’ Variations, Op. 14,
for piano duet. Kagan gives it a peasant-like tinge on its first
appearance. The likeable variations take in the pleasantly spiky
as well as elements of mild comedy.
The disc is rounded
off by a two-movement Sonatina. This was actually originally
published, by Clementi, under the title of “Sonata”. It was
composed while Ries was touring Russia in 1811/12. Its whole
demeanour is small-scale, and appealingly so. There is an all-pervading
melancholy to the first movement, though, balanced by the deliberately
naïve nature of the Allegretto scherzando finale.
recording is well rounded and fine without being out of the
absolute top drawer. The upper-mid to upper registers are a
little on edge. This is the beginning of what will clearly be
a delightful, and useful, series.
Classicsonline download “extra” of this particular release
is the finale of Hummel’s Piano Sonata No. 9 in C.