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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Complete Chamber Music for Flute and String Trio - Volume 1
Quartet for Flute and Strings in D minor, WoO 35, No. 1 (1814-15) [29:02]
Trio for Strings in E-flat, WoO 70, No. 1 (1801-5?) [24:19]
Quartet for Flute and Strings in C, Op. 145, No. 1 (1814-15) [18:41]
Ardinghello Ensemble
rec. Kirche St.-Barbara, Nordweil, 2015
CPO 555 051-2 [72:09]

When I began exploring music, the second-tier Classicists all sounded pretty much alike to me -- merely routine alongside the more innovative, more fully realized profiles of Mozart, Haydn, or Beethoven. (I used to cut the “aspirational Romantics” more slack: I could always enjoy Fibich and Glazunov as easily as Dvořk and Tchaikovsky.) Today, with more listening experience, I'm more readily picking up on these composers’ individual personalities, which is only right: it’s hardly fair simply to dismiss Ries or Reicha or Par for not being Beethoven!

I've always enjoyed the combination of flute and string trio, ever since hearing the flute's cool, clear timbre stands out nicely against the full, unified sonority of the three strings. Ries’s quartets are rather more interesting than the four that either are or are not by Mozart, depending on whom you read. The D minor quartet, in particular, offers a good deal of contrapuntal give-and-take, not only between the flute and the strings, but among the strings themselves: even the cello, so frequently relegated to the bass line in Classical scores, becomes refreshingly active in spots. Within the rigorously structured movements, there are occasional feints toward unexpected key areas, and some piquant touches, such as the drones that introduce, and recur in, the D minor's Finale.

The communitarian billing of the ‘Ardinghello Ensemble’ is laudable: all chamber-music participants supposedly stand on an equal footing. As Orwell might have said, however, some are more equal than others. In this grouping, the flute stands out as primus inter pares, its distinctive timbre inevitably lending it a concertante prominence. Flutist Karl Kaiser does a nice job with these scores. His tone has an agreeable chiff in the midrange, taking on a slight but not unpleasantly “peaky” quality in the upper reaches; his rhythm is alert. He shapes and enlivens runs and embellishments with an unobtrusive rubato, while binding lyric phrases with a good, firm legato.

The three string players are mostly solid, bringing energy to the Allegros, intoning the singing themes with a pleasing smoothness, tossing the motifs back and forth with assurance. They don’t always maintain the same alertness or firm grounding, however, when faster motion is required. The first movement of the D minor quartet, for example, tosses triplet passages back and forth among the instruments. Kaiser launches them with poise and assurance; in the strings, they sound skittish. Neither do the strings always project the rhythmic scansion clearly, notably in the Scherzo of the C major quartet.

Despite CPO’s subtitle, just two flute quartets are offered here, bracketing a trio for strings alone. The first movement shares the quirky spirit of Beethoven’s early-middle piano sonatas. The second is an incisive menuet-and-trio; the third, Adagio cantabile, sounds salonish at the start, but soon gains in intensity, and a relaxed Allegro rounds things off. The playing has its good points (the pointed accents in the Finale) and its less good ones (uneasy syncopations in the first movement, a wilting start to the Adagio). Violinist Annette Rehberger’s style is properly more assertive here than in the flute scores.

Despite my mild strictures, I enjoyed the music and the performances. The recording is excellent, with an unobtrusive ambience audible after important cadences.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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