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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Sonatas Op. 1: No. 1 in C (1806) [29:18]; No. 2 in A minor (1803/04) [23:14]
Susan Kagan (piano)
rec. Concertgebouw De Doelen, Rotterdam, 1 July 2005. DDD
RAPTUS 305.05.03 [52:32] 



The low running time of this disc is perhaps balanced out by the rarity of the material it contains and the excellence of both the playing and the recording. These are dubbed as World Premiere recordings, and I cannot find any evidence to contradict that. Ries is best known perhaps for his devotion to Beethoven. He was a pupil, but also acted as secretary and biographer. Here Susan Kagan presents two of Ries' fourteen piano sonatas.

The first is dramatic in a distinctly Beethovenian sense. Certain parts sound as if this is a reduction of a string quartet (admittedly the same could be said of Beethoven's Op. 14/2 of which there is actually a quartet version!). One can play the game of spotting Beethoven quotes in this music if one wishes if fact it is basically unavoidable, as I will demonstrate below) but it is worthwhile also appreciating the fact that Ries is trying to hew his own way in the familiar sonata territory.

The first movement of the C major has an opened-out quality to it (particularly the development) that recalls Beethoven's Op. 2/3. Kagan has all the technical, intellectual and musical means at her disposal to delineate the structure and lead the listener through the changing territory with ease. There are moments of Schubertian charm here, surrounded by the oak-like strength of the Beethovenian trees.

The slow movement marked 'Adagio ma non tanto' has some links to the slow movement of Beethoven's great Op. 10/3, at least at first. It does not quite plumb the same depths (it would presumbly be much better known and recorded if it did!), but it is a notable piece in its own right. Talk of Op. 10/3 is particularly apt as some of the right-hand figuration seems derived from Beehoven's Largo e mesto. The next movement, a Menuetto, does not seem keen to break the spell of the Adagio (the same thing happens in Op. 10/3, where the third movement creeps in from the silence that followed the lonely repeated low Ds that concluded the slow movement). Ries is, if anything, more melancholy than Beethoven in his continuation. The finale begins with a figuration that could easily form the basis of the accompaniment of a Schubert Lied before the slightly, but affectingly, pecking subject enters.

The second sonata on this disc is perhaps the more imaginative of the pair (although this is not to downplay the first's delightfulness). It is in only three movements, and begins with a calm serenity that is much more closely related to Schubert's sonatas than Beethoven's. Kagan changes her game in response, introducing melting phrasing to her expressive first-movement armoury.

There is no equivalent slow movement here. Instead, Ries pens an 'Andante quasi Allegretto scherzando'. The scherzando element seems to lie in the appealing, prevalent staccato which Kagan realises so touchingly (particularly when Ries adds appoggiaturas!). The finale returns to the cosy, no-hurry feel of the first movement, juxtaposing orchestrally conceived sonorities with muchmore delicate, clear-cut ones. Kagan relishes it all.

The recording is excellently focussed. A superb release.

Colin Clarke



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