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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concerto no.1 in E flat, op.42 (1811) [29:52]
Introduction et Rondeau Brillant, op.144 (1825) [17:52]
Piano Concerto no.8 in G minor, op.177 (1832-33) [30:22]
Christopher Hinterhuber (piano)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 12-14 September 2011. DDD
NAXOS 8.572742 [78:06]  

Experience Classicsonline


Last year Naxos released the fifth and final volume in their edition of the complete Piano Sonatas and Sonatinas of German composer Ferdinand Ries (review). That series was started and completed after their launch in 2005 of the complete Piano Concertos, also in five volumes, which finally comes to end with this disc. Ries's discography on Naxos is something to be grateful for, indeed - matched at the moment only by CPO's, where, most notably, Howard Griffiths and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra have recorded Ries's eight Symphonies on four discs, also available as a good-value boxed set (review). 

Youngish Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber and Naxos stalwart - not to mention period expert - Uwe Grodd have been a team since volume I, and their collaborations in this final effort are poised, detailed and appealingly atmospheric. Another quality performance in the NZSO's discography underlines their status as a very decent outfit. 

In his informative notes, Allan Badley writes that "Ries's cycle of fourteen works for piano and orchestra stands as one of the finest musical achievements of the early decades of the nineteenth century." For many this will be a contentious, if not faintly daft, statement. Yet popularising musical historians sometimes seem loath to acknowledge the existence of any music from this period - Schubert, Weber and Paganini's aside - that is not by Beethoven. They all but discount extremely valuable contributions to art music from the likes of Hummel, Rejcha, Czerny, Dussek, Eberl, Spohr, Kuhlau, Onslow, Field - to name but a few contemporaries who influenced Beethoven and/or were widely admired in their time.
 
Ries himself is still more often than not relegated to a historical footnote as piano pupil, friend, 'agent', biographer and performer of Beethoven. Though Badley may slightly overstate Ries's case, he is by no means a minor talent, certainly as far as piano composition is concerned. He wrote prolifically for his instrument to great acclaim in his time, both by the public and his contemporaries. 

Ries is an early Romantic in spirit and form, though he would never disavow his Classical roots. In these three works he can be heard to inhabit a realm somewhere between Mozart and Hummel. The Concertos are dramatic, expressive and very elegantly done, imbued with melodic creativity and splendid flourishes of orchestral colour. 

Throughout this series, Naxos's website has perpetuated the unhelpful numbering system often attached to Ries's Concertos. For example, the G minor is labelled "Piano Concerto no.9", which does not in fact exist - Ries wrote only eight. So it is with the E flat work: not his "Piano Concerto no.2", as the site states, but his 'no.1'. The source of this error is explained in the booklet notes: Ries's first published concerto, which he called 'Concerto no.1', was for violin and orchestra. He followed it with eight for piano and orchestra, numbering them 'Concerto no.2' and so on, up to 'Concerto no.9' - that is, Piano Concertos nos. 1 to 8.
 
Nor is that the end of the complications. In fact, Ries's "no.6" was his First Piano Concerto proper, whereas "no.2" was most likely his Third! The explanation here lies in the fact that Ries published them all when it suited his purposes, rather than according to date of composition. The following table clarifies the true ordering:

Composition order
Published order
Traditional title
1 (1806)
5 (1824)
Concerto no.6
2 (1809)
3 (1823)
Concerto no.4
3 (1811)
1 (1812)
Concerto no.2
4 (1812)
2 (1816)
Concerto no.3
5 (1814)
4 (1823)
Concerto no.5
6 (1823)
6 (1824)
Concerto no.7
7 (1826)
7 (1828)
Concerto no.8
8 (1832-33)
8 (1835)
Concerto no.9

Source: Ferdinand Ries Society and New Grove. 

Not to be outdone, this disc's stirring Introduction et Rondeau Brillant has exactly the same title and length as one on volume 4!
 
One drawback to volume 5 is audio quality, which is passable rather than outstanding. The main problem is the lack of depth, giving the recording something of a mono feel - fine for the 'mp3 generation' perhaps, but not for audiophiles. In their 25th anniversary year, Naxos should by now have got this right - every recording, no matter what its provenance, should match the quality of their best. Like volume 1, this disc was recorded in New Zealand at the Michael Fowler Centre - clearly the technical side of operations there needs to be looked at.  

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