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Ferdinand RIES (1784 – 1837)
Symphony No. 7 in A minor Op. 181 (1835)
Symphony No. 8 in E Flat, Wo0 30 (1822)
Zurich Chamber Orchestra/Howard Griffiths.
Rec. 2-7 May 2002, Neumunsterkirche, Zurich, Switzerland. DDD
CPO 999 904-2 [67.16]

This is the last in CPO’s series of the symphonies of Ferdinand Ries, the other six being available on three discs available separately at full price. My only wish is that I had come across this composer earlier as I find both these symphonies examples of the genuine article. By that I mean strong themes, well developed, well orchestrated and balanced across the orchestra. This is coupled with a genuine sense of growth and development within the symphonic structure. Indeed if I had heard them many years ago when I was finding out about Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart etc., I am not sure that I wouldn’t have rated these works up there with the other masters.

Ries wrote eight symphonies in all, and based upon the evidence of these two, the others should be well worth hunting out. CPO’s recording is absolutely first rate and is available in SACD format, which can also be played in normal stereo. It is the latter format I listened to here, and I found that the sound quality, always first class with this company, had a slight additional bloom to the sound. Whether this is to do with the SACD mix down or just the luck of the draw, I am not sure, but there are no shortcomings with respect to the sound quality whatsoever. Most of the other CPO recordings I have heard have been co-productions with various radio organisations, so perhaps the additional enhancement to the sound may also be down to the recording engineers operating in the church, rather than the characteristics of the radio hall(s), normally used by this company.

Symphony No. 7 is the last numbered symphony written by the composer, is in four movements, and to an innocent ear could easily be a long lost work by early Beethoven or late Haydn. That Ries was influenced by these masters is not in question, as his symphonies sometimes shared the podium with works by the other two. For example during the festival at Pentecost 1825 in Aachen, Beethoven’s 9th symphony was performed in the company of Ries’s E Flat Symphony with its composer as conductor. Critics responded very positively to the new work, singling out the orchestration as "dazzling and highly effective". The work was also described as "This introit is of majestic pomp; it reveals the whole mighty weight of the Mass and through it deeply grips the listener and befriends him with it. It is the glorious rising of the daystar, of the magnificent sun, which illuminates the life of a heavenly bright, delightful May day with its splendour. For truly, the symphony shows us bright, cheery life and activity; one finds oneself in the midst of it all: a festival day begins; mirth and good humour, joy and sheer delight prevail; the young gather together for jubilant games; full glasses tinkle among the old; gaiety appears everywhere and builds the throne for love. Song and dance conclude the celebration, and as the joy had begun, so the crowd goes off in merry spirits."

I would rate this description as a little over the top, but you can see that at the time Ries was highly acceptable to his peers.

I recommend this disc without reservation, and look forward to hearing the others in this superbly played, conducted and recorded series.

John Phillips


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