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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos, Volume 1
Piano Concerto in A flat major, Op. 151 (1826) [29:01]
Piano Concerto in C major, Op. 123 (1806) [31:56]
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 1-3 February 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557638 [60:57]


The undeniable privilege of having been both a pupil and a friend of Beethoven carried it with it equally undeniable burdens - apart from the difficulties of Beethoven’s personality. This must have been an especial burden for those who had ambitions as composers in their own right. One was always likely to be regarded as of interest primarily – or even solely – for the tales one might have to tell about the master, special insights to offer. One’s own music was all too likely to be dismissed as merely a diluted version of the master’s. As a creative individual one might feel totally dominated, altogether overshadowed and inhibited by the genius one had known at close quarters, to be a victim of what, in literary circles, the critic Harold Bloom has famously called “the anxiety of influence”.

Ferdinand Ries’s father, Franz Anton Ries was his earliest teacher and was himself a friend of Beethoven. Brought up in Bonn, Ferdinand Ries went to Munich, and then Vienna, in 1801. Beethoven helped the impecunious young man between 1801 and 1804, Ries working as a kind of secretary and copyist to the great man. He also studied with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. He went on to a successful career as a pianist and composer which took him to many parts of Europe, including some eleven years spent in London. In later years Beethoven thought rather less well of Ries, possibly because, in 1808, Ries obtained an appointment that Beethoven himself wanted. Beethoven reportedly observed of Ries that “his compositions imitate me too much”. The remark – made out of anger - has set the tone for many later judgements. In 1838 Ries published - with Franz Wegeler - Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven. The very real interest and value of these biographical notes has, ironically, served to distract attention, until recently at least, from Ries’s own music.

Ries’s admiration of Beethoven endured; he often performed Beethoven’s music; he made arrangements of a number of Beethoven’s works, including a string quartet arrangement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 15 (‘Pastoral’) and a string quintet arrangement of Beethoven’s Second Symphony; during Ries’s years in London he was in large part responsible for obtaining for Beethoven the commission which resulted in the Ninth Symphony. It would have been strange indeed if there were not reminiscences of Beethoven occasionally to be heard in his own music. But his best music is far more than Beethoven and water; he seems never to have been a victim of Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” and, sensibly, not to have aspired to write music of so great a spiritual weight as that of Beethoven, preferring to find ways of being true to himself.

These are world première recordings of two of Ries’s eight piano concertos. The earlier, written shortly after Ries’s years with Beethoven does at times sound a little like the master, especially in some of the orchestral writing; but the resemblances are neither surprising nor in any way limiting. The keyboard writing is more like Hummel, as Allan Badley suggests in the booklet notes, than Beethoven. At times one is reminded of Clementi. Ries, in short, was heir to a whole tradition, not just to one composer, however great. He has a gift for melodic invention and some of the more ornate passages surely reflect his own virtuoso skills as a pianist. The central movement – marked larghetto quasi andante – is particularly charming. The A flat concerto, composed some twenty years later, shows us a composer working in an idiom which has a grandeur of its own, and which is in no way reliant on recollections of Beethoven. This is a fine, eloquent concerto, a musical tribute to the Rhine; the first and second movements are relaxed and broad, the third more insistently energetic, some of the writing for the soloist making considerable technical demands.

Soloist, orchestra, conductor and recording quality are all beyond reproach. The young Austrian, Christopher Hinterhuber, displays a mature understanding of the traditions out of which Ries’s music grows and is quite unphased by the more bravura passages. He finds wholly sympathetic partners in The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Uwe Grodd. This CD, I am pleased to report, is announced as the first volume in a projected series of the composer’s complete works for piano and orchestra. If its successors are as good as this, the series will introduce us to a lot of very attractive music.

Glyn Pursglove

see also Review by Colin Clarke January Bargain of the Month



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