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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838)
Sextet Op. 142 [22.42]
Trio WoO 70,2 [25.41]
Octet Op. 128 [21.37]
Franz Ensemble
rec. 2019, Konzerhaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG 903 2136-6 SACD [70.10]

Some years ago, I gambled two euros in the bargain bin at the big Leclerc supermarket on the way to Nantes airport, and acquired Ries’s Piano Quintet in B minor, opus 74. I have never regretted it, and I see the disc is, surprisingly, still available (Brilliant Classics 92200).

All right, maybe his work is not as originally crafted or powerfully emotive as that of his onetime friend Beethoven, but it is still very well put together, inventive and tuneful. And so it proves with this delightful disc from Dabringhaus and Grimm.

Ries’s father Franz taught Beethoven in Bonn, and he in turn gave lessons to Ries when he turned up in Vienna as a 17-year-old with a letter of recommendation. Ries had ambitions as a composer, and was also a good enough pianist to give the premiere of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto (and judging by his Octet, he’d certainly heard Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto as well.) Ries later wandered across Europe in search of work before ending up in Britain.

The delightful Sextet and Octet were written in 1814 and 1816 respectively in London, where Ries ended up directing the Philharmonic Society (and helping commission for the Society the work that became Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony). He went back to Germany in 1824, dying in Frankfurt at the age of just 53.

The Sextet is written for the very unusual combination of harp, piano, clarinet, bassoon, horn and double bass. This is precisely what CDs are for. When are you ever likely to hear this group of instruments in a concert hall? Ries knew this, and even offered an arrangement with a second piano and strings in an effort to get it published. But the harp had to be there; the co-founder of the Philharmonic Society was Charles Meyer – a celebrated harpist.

The sound on this disc, with piano and harp swapping material, is ravishing, helped by a clear and natural recording within the bloom of a church setting. The work ain’t Beethoven, not even early Beethoven, but it never outstays its welcome and this is a very accomplished traversal of an unusual instrumental combination.

The E minor String Trio is a tougher nut to crack, without that attractive patina. It may have been composed earlier than the other two works on this disc, though there are still many original features. I was very taken with the falling figures in the third movement (track 6).

The problem with the Octet is that so much of the first movement sounds like Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, written five years earlier; or maybe that’s also a recommendation. Ries apparently wrote it to perform himself at a Philharmonic Society concert. The final rondo allegretto must have wowed them.

The franz ensemble (note, no capitals) is made up of “ARD music competition award winners, professors, artistic directors of celebrated festivals, successful soloists and chamber musicians…… empowered to make music freed from external preconceptions and inner pressures”. This is part of a rather grandiose mission statement in the disc booklet, repeated on their website. But I’ve failed to discover, from the booklet or the website, if the franz ensemble is named after Ries’s father, as I suspect. He must have been very proud of his son, even though posterity has been somewhat unkind.

Chris Ramsden
Maximilan Krome (clarinet), Rie Koyama (bassoon), Sarah Christian (violin), Yuko Hara (viola), Tristan Cornut (cello), Juliane Bruckmann (double bass), Kiveli Doerken (piano)) with Jonathan Wegloop (horn) and Emily Hoile (harp)

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