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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos, Volume 1: A flat, Op. 151, 'Gruss an den Rhein' (1826) [29'01]; C major, Op. 123 (1806) [31'56]. (both ed. Allan Badley).
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd.
Rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 1-3 Feb 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557638 [60'57]

An hour of sheer delight here. Ferdinand Ries is probably best known for his associations with Beethoven. Here is an opportunity to hear how he sounds on his own two compositional feet in two world premiere recordings.

And excellent they are, too. Christopher Hinterhuber is a pupil of Lazar Berman, and something of his mentor's facility has obviously rubbed off. Scores which are presumably often black with semiquavers clearly are bread and water to this pianist. The 'Gruss an den Rhein' concerto (first on the disc; second in the booklet notes) was composed at Bad Godesberg. Ries grew up in the area of the Rhine, and something of that river's unhurried majesty is conveyed in the first movement. The orchestra's opening is warm and very, very welcoming, for example. Hinterhuber revels in the sparkling piano writing, often very close to Chopin in its filigree.

The slow movement (Larghetto con moto) is only five minutes long but is a lovely Nocturne that reveals the warmth carried by the recording. The finale is prefaced by a cadenza; dazzling fingerwork here. When it arrives properly, this last movement is as jolly as they come. To its credit, the New Zealand orchestra manages to sound involved throughout; no easy task surely in works that are clearly designed as pianistic showcases.

The C major Concerto, Op. 123 seems closer to Hummel than Chopin, with liberal dollops of Beethoven along the way. The first movement is a dramatic entity, with Ries surely trying a couple of things along the way. The recording in this case seems particularly well-balanced in forte, opening out nicely. There is much fantasy here too; only the cadenza tends towards the weak.

The long and restful 'Larghetto quasi andante' includes a lovely clarinet solo and a dark central section before the sparkling rondo-finale - quite suave at times - rounds off a most enjoyable disc. When the orchestra opts to add a 'raw' edge, it is as if it is nodding in the direction of the 'authentic'. A nice touch.

An excellent disc. One of the beauties of Naxos is that one can experiment with rare repertoire at low cost. Here that cost is certainly justified.

Colin Clarke



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