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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Piano Concerto No. 8 in A flat major (1827) [29:56]
Introduction and Polonaise (1833) [14:49]
Piano Concerto No. 9 in G minor (1832) [28:38]
Piers Lane (piano)
The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein
rec. 2017, Richard B Fisher Center, Bard College, New York
The Romantic Piano Concerto, Volume 75
HYPERION CDA68217 [73:25]

Ferdinand Ries is probably best known through his association with Beethoven, as that master’s protegé, the author of one of the earliest his biographies and his piano pupil for several years until he moved in 1813 from Vienna to London. There he remained for some ten years, and when he returned to the German lands he brought with him a new concerto, his Eighth, entitled Greetings to the Rhine.

Piers Lane gives it a committed and assured performance, while responding warmly to the jewel in its crown, the central Larghetto, a movement of real imagination and sensitivity. Nor are the outer movements without appeal, especially in the attractive second subject theme of the opening movement, with its major-minor ambivalence. The finale, too, makes use of this device, but in a more dramatic way, and the inspiration tails off as the movement proceeds. There is some splendid playing from both soloist and orchestra, although the recorded balance unduly favours the piano, with the result that in many passages the instrument is accorded a 'larger than life' quality.

While the splendid insert notes by Richard Wigmore conform Hyperion's usual high standards, it is surprising that the booklet contains little about The Orchestra Now. It is an ensemble hardly known on this side of the Atlantic, so a brief extract from their website may be useful in rectifying this surprising omission: 'Conductor, educator, and music historian Leon Botstein founded TON in 2015 as a master’s degree program at Bard College, where he also serves as president. The orchestra is in residence at Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.’

The Ninth Concerto opens most atmospherically, with writing for the horns that perhaps reflects an awareness of the music of Carl Maria von Weber, whom Ries would have encountered in London. However, here as in the Eighth Concerto, the trend as the music develops is to emphasise bravura display. While this is a not unreasonable priority in a concerto, the music might have created more compelling interest than Ries achieves here.

Terry Barfoot

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