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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos, Vol. 2
Swedish National Air with Variations, Op.52 (1812) [15:01]
Introduction and Polonaise, Op.174 (1833) [15:03]
Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op.55 (1812) [30:23]
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. Gävle Concert Hall, Gävle, Sweden, 10-13 January 2006.
NAXOS 8.557844 [60:27]

 


This second instalment in the continuing cycle of Ries's piano concertos from Naxos is a disc for your wish-list.

Ries is more famous today for being Beethoven's pupil and biographer than for his own career in music. In his day he ranked with Hummel and, yes, even with Beethoven himself as one of Europe's greatest composer-pianists.  Thanks to the efforts of Naxos and Allan Badley's Artaria Editions, we can now hear for ourselves what it was that so excited nineteenth century audiences.

All three works here show Ries to be a composer of originality, though one with a respect for his musical forebears.  It would go too far to call him daring or revolutionary.  Nonetheless, despite the backward glances at Mozart, his facility for contrasting grand orchestral statements with piano writing of a free, rhapsodic lyricism bridges the gap between Beethoven on the one hand and Chopin and Schumann on the other.

The Swedish National Air with Variations opens with a proud and darkly coloured orchestral flourish, which is immediately contrasted with a gently glittering statement from the piano.  This pattern of contrasts is repeated throughout the 15 minutes of this piece, as Ries plies his skill at conjuring variations, first dazzling, then soulful.  He casts the orchestra as chorus rather than as equal partner in dialogue, but he knows how to use its tone colours – listen to the lovely clarinet commentary about five minutes in, for example.

The Piano Concerto in C sharp minor is a delightful work, written largely on the road as Ries toured and then fled Russia in 1812.  It is natural to want to draw comparisons with Beethoven's C minor concerto of 12 years earlier, but similarities are few and comparisons unhelpful.  Apart from a few blustery tuttis, Ries uses the minor mode to spice harmonies and lend interest rather than to generate Beethovenian drama.  The material is predominantly lyrical but virtuosic in the outer movements.  The central slow movement lasts for less than five minutes, but is the heart of the concerto.  Here Ries'sw gentle lyricism calls for a Chopinesque rubato and lightness of touch.  His writing for orchestra, though, is better than Chopin's and full of interesting details and colourings.

The Introduction and Polonaise may have been composed 21 years after the other two pieces in this programme, but it demonstrates a remarkable consistency in Ries's idiom across the years.  This piece is full of Mozartean turns of phrase, but with harmonic touches that point to Schumann.  Again, there is some charming writing for the clarinets and flutes as they comment on the piano's discourse.

The Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber plays with commitment and is a fine advocate for these works, just as able to command attention with flashes of fire as he is to lead the ear through the most delicate figurations.  Grodd and the Gävle Symphony Orchestra support him well enough, though there is a little raggedness in the upper registers of the violins towards the close of the Introduction and Polonaise.  The recorded sound is fine and the booklet notes by Allan Badley are interesting, though they hint at but do not explain the reconstruction of the score of the C sharp minor concerto.

All up, this disc offers you satisfying performances of satisfying music.  How can you refuse?

Tim Perry

see also Review by Colin Clarke of Vol.1 in this series

 

 


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