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Ferdinand Ries (1784 - 1837)
Symphony in a No. 7 Op 181 (1835) [33.59]
Symphony in Eb No. 8, WoO 30 (1822) [32.56]
Zürchner Kammerorchester/Howard Griffiths
Recorded in Neumünsterkirche, Zürich, Switzerland, 7 May 2002
SACD Tracks in 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo.
CD tracks in 2.0 stereo
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français.
Photo of composer and artists.
CPO 999 904-2 [67.16]
Hybrid SACD playable on SACD players and CD players


Ries was born 18 November 1784 in Bonn. His father Franz Anton Ries had been a violin prodigy and was Beethoven’s violin teacher in Bonn. Ferdinand Ries studied piano with Beethoven from 1802 to 1805, studied cello with Romberg, and composition with Albrechtsburger. Ries paid for his lessons by copying scores for Beethoven, who once joked that "Ries copied me too much." When Ries was ready to look for a job, Beethoven helped him with recommendations.

German born British impresario J. P. Salomon had been a teacher of the elder Ries, and Salomon invited son Ferdinand to London for a successful tour in 1813. Ries performed his own works as well as Beethoven’s with the Philharmonic Society (He did not "start" the Society as some report), thereby increasing the popularity of Beethoven in England. In 1814 he married an English woman then retired to Germany. Ferdinand Ries died in 1838, but his father Franz Anton lived until 1846 and attended the festival at the dedication of the Beethoven statue in Bonn in 1845.

Why should the producer feel the need to explain why he used high definition surround sound to record music from the classical repertoire? A live sounding orchestra is always more urgently compelling than a canned one, and here we have live sound with clear bass and smooth midrange. If the orchestra sounds so good the music can only sound the better for it. There seems to be a widespread misconception that the composers of the classical period were not aware of orchestral sound, but we must remind ourselves that Berlioz, Liszt and Rimsky-Korsakov could only have built on a solid foundation they received from the great classical era composers. "Orchestration" began long before Vivaldi or Mozart, perhaps even before Monteverdi. The sound of a skilled and well rehearsed classical orchestra — and this is certainly that, even though it may be missing, quite literally, bells and whistles — is a beautiful sound and it deserves as much as any other to be accurately reproduced.

Ries has his share of greatness even though at their best moments these symphonies convincingly remind us of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and even Schubert. At the beginning, one might be tempted to call the Seventh Symphony in particular "Mendelsson’s 6th." And then, in a few moments, one would say (along with the critics of Ries’ time), no, it’s "Beethoven’s Tenth," or perhaps more precisely Beethoven’s 6˝ or 8˝. As in Beethoven’s Sixth, there is a sense of drama, of a story unfolding. Near the end of the first movement there arises a buoyant Schubertian rhythm which leads us to a typical Beethoven cadence. The scherzo is a most original movement, resembling ballet music, with an intriguing rhythmic design Beethoven at his best could not have equalled. In the "Eighth" Symphony, written before the Seventh, the two inner movements are again very graceful with surprising Beethoven cadences, showing how Beethoven might have written ballet music if he’d had dance lessons at an early age. The last movement could have been from Beethoven’s Symphony #1˝, but with a fugue and a very exciting ostinato finish.

Both Mendelssohn and Beethoven sit up in their graves and cheer any time their works achieve performance and recording as good as this.

In place of the usual gaudy banners, the only way to tell this is an SACD is the very small ikon visible at the hinge and on the disk, and the rounded corners on the jewelbox. There is, for instance, no mention on the spine. Otherwise it is CPO’s usual packaging, which for the Ries series features nostalgic 19th century landscapes.

Paul Shoemaker

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