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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos: Volume 3

Piano Concerto No. 7 in A major, Op. 132, ‘Farewell to London’ (1823) [34:59]
Grand Variations on ‘Rule Britannia’, Op. 116 (1817) [15:58]
Introduction et Variations Brillantes, Op. 170 (1832) [14:35]
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. 9-10 January 2007, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK
NAXOS 8.570440 [66:02]                   

 

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Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries didn’t quite manage nine symphonies – he wrote eight – but he did outstrip hs friend and mentor when it came to piano concertos (nine in all). Colin Clarke welcomed the first volume in Naxos’s ongoing series and Tim Perry wrote glowingly of the second; not surprisingly, I had high hopes for the third.

Yes, such expectations do have a nasty habit of ending in disappointment, but when the signs are as auspicious as this.... The Royal Liverpool band certainly needs no introduction; nor does conductor Uwe Grodd, who made such a good impression as the flautist and leader in Vanhal’s Flute Quartets (Naxos 8.570234). The Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber also looks promising; he’s certainly had some illustrious teachers, Lazar Berman and Murray Perahia among them.

Ries’s seventh concerto, written in London in 1823, is supposed to mark his farewell to the city, although the autograph score bears no such title. In any event it’s an effervescent work whose grand opening might tempt one to comparisons with Beethoven and Mozart. It’s clearly of that ilk but the music has an identity all of its own. This is writing of astonishing fluency and drive, qualities that Hinterhuber demonstrates from the outset. Arguably the orchestra sounds a little woolly here – it firms up nicely later on – but the piano remains warm and clear throughout.

But that’s not all; Hinterhuber finds plenty of sparkle and wit as well, while always maintaining a sense of classical proportion and scale. And just listen to that lovely passage that appears briefly at 12:47, before the more ebullient mood returns. The orchestra respond to the music’s gentle rhythms with playing of great poise, but it’s in the Larghetto that they and the soloist establish a remarkable rapport. Those drowsy string figures at the start are beautifully articulated, as is Hinterhuber’s gentle reply, and one may be forgiven for thinking of the Andante to Mozart’s K.467 at times. This is lovely, twilight music, a perfect prelude to the sun-drenched Allegro that follows.

One senses in this concerto an air of certainty and general wellbeing that spills over into the ‘Rule Britannia’ variations. Written in 1817 the piece has a wonderful lyricism that really plays to Hinterhuber’s interpretive strengths; he shades and points the familiar phrases with great care, reinventing ‘that tune’ with consummate skill. And what should one make of that passage at 9:42, which sounds remarkably like a snatch of ‘ragged time’? All-in-all a refreshing piece, winningly played.

However, it’s the Introduction et Variations Brillantes that really astonishes and delights. Based on the English folk-song ‘Soldier, soldier will you marry me?’ this work has orchestral weight and drama aplenty; more than that it’s an excellent vehicle for Hinterhuber, whose aerated playing and fine rhythmic control remind me so much of that other player/performer, Gottschalk. Not as complex a piece as the earlier variations, perhaps, but delightful nonetheless.

An admirable collection, made all the more desirable by the pianism of Christopher Hinterhuber. It’s been a while since I’ve heard playing of such consistent quality, of such lightness and character. That said, the real heroes are Ries himself – this music demands to be more widely heard – and Naxos, whose ongoing cycles and series have restored so many neglected composers to the catalogue.

Captivating music, eloquently played and warmly recorded. Need I say more? 

Dan Morgan






 


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