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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Sonatas and Sonatinas: Volume 1
Piano Sonatas: F minor, Op. 11/2 (1807/8) [19:37]; E flat, Op. 11/1 (1807/8) [21:50]; Piano Sonatina in A minor, Op. 45 (1811/12) [8:26]
Susan Kagan (piano). rec. Kaufman Astoria Studios (KAS), Astoria (Queens), New York, USA, 22 October, 23 July 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570796 [49:53]
Experience Classicsonline

Susan Kagan is a pianist and critic (Fanfare) whose credits include recordings with the great violinist Josef Suk. Her Ph.D. dissertation focused on the music of Archduke Rudolph. She co-edited the scores of the present works with Allan Badley (available on Artaria Editions). Kagan also provides the knowledgeable booklet notes here.

The Op. 11 Sonatas were written when Ries was living in Paris - they were not published until 1816. Ries’ music sits somewhere in between Beethoven and the early Romantics. In the first movement of the first sonata we hear, Op. 11/2, there are some very proto-Schubertian spread chords early on, but the unrest of the development section clearly comes from a Beethovenian direction. The central Larghetto is expressive and lends itself to ever more elaborate embellishment. Kagan is superb at the decorations but seems less convincing in the simpler opening. This movement actually reveals depths one might not expect from this composer. The finale is along the lines of a tarantella, with its typical unwillingness to slow down and draw breath. The Sonata op. 11/1, which follows in the playing order, boasts a calm first movement that speaks more of breadth than of drama. Kagan is in her element here – she is a musical, gentle player – just as she is in the delicacy of the central Andante which has just the right amount of forward movement to it. The finale is a set of variations on a Russian melody. It’s a melody used again in Ries’ Variations, Op. 14, for piano duet. Kagan gives it a peasant-like tinge on its first appearance. The likeable variations take in the pleasantly spiky as well as elements of mild comedy.

The disc is rounded off by a two-movement Sonatina. This was actually originally published, by Clementi, under the title of “Sonata”. It was composed while Ries was touring Russia in 1811/12. Its whole demeanour is small-scale, and appealingly so. There is an all-pervading melancholy to the first movement, though, balanced by the deliberately naïve nature of the Allegretto scherzando finale. 

The recording is well rounded and fine without being out of the absolute top drawer. The upper-mid to upper registers are a little on edge. This is the beginning of what will clearly be a delightful, and useful, series. 

The Classicsonline download “extra” of this particular release is the finale of Hummel’s Piano Sonata No. 9 in C. 

Colin Clarke



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