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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Flute Quartets, Op. 145
Flute Quartet in C major, Op. 145 No. 1 [17:35] Flute Quartet in E minor, Op. 145 No. 2 [19:22] Flute Quartet in A major, Op. 145 No. 3 [19:34]
John Herrick Littlefield (flute), Aaron Boyd (violin), Ah Ling Neu (viola), Yari Bond (cello)
rec. June 2006, Sacred Heart Chapel of the Dominican Convent, Sparkill, New York. DDD
NAXOS 8.570330 [56:33] 


I hadn’t heard much of Ries’s music before this CD. His father, Franz, had been Beethoven’s violin teacher, and Ferdinand was sent to study piano under Beethoven in Vienna. At Beethoven’s suggestion, he also studied composition with Beethoven’s teacher Albrechtsberger. Ferdinand Ries and Beethoven remained friends for the duration of Beethoven’s life. He went to England in 1813, where he remained for eleven years, before returning to retire to Germany in 1824, where these flute quartets were written.

Revived through research by this CD’s flute player, John Herrick Littlefield, these three quartets are varied in character. The Quartet No. 1 in C major has a distinctly classical feel, with quotes from Mozart. Beethoven’s influence can also be keenly felt, especially in the third movement, Scherzo and Trio. The finale, Allegro all’espagnola, is full of Spanish character and demonstrates the more fun-filled side of Ries’s personality. Littlefield handles the technical passages well, despite occasional lapses in the clarity of articulation. 

The E minor Quartet begins with a grandiose opening, followed by virtuosic semiquaver displays. This is handled well by all the performers, with evenness and security of technique. The balance is good and John Herrick Littlefield’s sound soars over the strings. The strings match each other well in conversational passages and the intonation is good. The Andante is expressive and played with sensitivity and delicate phrasing. There is a charming moment in the Trio section of the Menuet and Trio [Track 7, 1:39] which once again gives away a light-hearted view of the composer.  The players control this change of character well, and their sound is full of charm.

The final quartet follows on seamlessly from the previous one, as it is in the dominant, and feels almost as if this group of three were intended to be heard as a set. There are some minor string intonation issues here, but this brief moment is followed by some fine playing from the violin and viola. The Allegro is played with passion and building tensions; this is very much composed in the Romantic style one would expect from the dates of the composer (1784-1838). Following a stylishly performed Adagio, the final movement is a cheerful Allegro, providing a rousing and entertaining ending to the set of quartets. 

Overall, the playing is generally good; Littlefield and his colleagues clearly have and understanding and enjoyment of the music. Despite a few scrappy moments, the sense of ensemble is good, and one gets the impression that these players have worked together for a number of years. The recording quality is good, with each line clearly defined, though I would perhaps have liked the cello to have been brought out more in the balance.  The music is enjoyable to listen to; while perhaps not of the same quality of Beethoven, these pieces make an interesting addition to the concert repertoire.

Carla Rees




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