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Ferdinand RIES (1784-1838])
Complete Works for Cello 2
Introduction and a Russian Dance, op.113/1 (1823) [8:09]
Cello Sonata in C minor, WoO 2 (1799) [22:36]
Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano in E-flat major, op.63 (1815) [8:28]
Cello Sonata in F major, op.34 (1823) [17:47]
Trois Airs Russes Variés (Three Russian Airs with Variations), op.72 (version for cello and piano) (1812) [13:18]
Martin Rummel (cello)
Stefan Stroissnig (piano)
Eric Lamb (flute)
rec. 2018, Schloss Weinberg, Kefermarkt, Austria
NAXOS 8.573851 [70:48]

Whenever Ferdinand Ries’ name comes up, it is almost always in connection with his teacher, Ludwig van Beethoven. Although Beethoven taught numerous pupils piano, he taught composition only to the Archduke Rudolph, Carl Czerny and Ferdinand Ries. Perhaps because of the enormous shadow of his mentor, Ries has fallen into obscurity. Naxos is now setting that right by issuing recordings of Ries’ compositions that show he should be considered much more than a mere footnote to history.

This release focuses on Ries’ music for the cello, presented by Martin Rummel on cello, with Stefan Stroissnig accompanying on piano. The Introduction and Russian Dance, op.113/1, provides an intensely serious opening that gives way to a delightfully bumptious dance. The switch from C major to C minor is a little bit jarring, but quite effective.

The cello sonata in C minor, WoO 2, was never published during Ries’ lifetime. Written when he was just fifteen, it nevertheless displays maturity and offers a panoply of interesting ideas in a seriously dramatic framework. This piece shows us quite clearly why Beethoven took an interest in the young man’s composition skills. It’s a very impressive piece of work for a fifteen-year-old, not to mention that it was one of the first cello sonatas ever written, closely following Beethoven’s own pioneering opus 5 sonatas. The opening movement Allegro is set against an offbeat ¾ time that keeps the listener on the edge of one’s seat. The middle movement Adagio features a plaintive middle section that is quite beautiful. The alla breve Prestissimo finale demonstrates close study of Beethoven’s piano works. This piece alone should give cause for reevaluation of Ries’ composition talents.

Unfortunately, the recording by Rummel makes some substantial cuts to the score. None of the indicated repeats are taken. The first thirteen bars of the first movement are missing, and most of the last third of the Finale has completely vanished. This cutting hardly seems fair to Ries, nor is it consistent with the “Complete Works for Cello” series title. With a piece this impressive, I would certainly liked to have heard the entire thing rather than an abridged version. The notes make no mention of the fact that there are large cuts made either, multiplying my annoyance.

Rummel and Stroissnig are joined by Eric Lewis on flute for the Trio, op.63. This delightful little miniature really feels like a piano sonatina that happens to have a cello and flute tacked on for decoration and depth; it doesn’t seem like it would miss much if they were omitted entirely. The motif of an upward jump of a fourth in the flute repeated throughout is nonetheless intriguing. This Trio is a jolly little piece, with a middle movement that serves as an introduction to the finale, in the manner of the Waldstein sonata. It’s nice to see that Ries can also show a lighter side, since most of the other compositions in this release are heavily dramatic.

The cello sonata in F, op.34, is actually a substitution for Ries’ horn sonata bearing the same opus number. Given the extreme gymnastics that the cellist is called upon to perform, I question how a horn player in the early 19th century could ever manage this piece, so it’s probably best heard in this form. While it is also quite short, Ries has shown significant growth in his part-writing; the piano and cello are much more cohesive here than in the earlier sonata. Rummel appears to add a few pizzicato notes of his own here and there that are not found in the score, but they are unobtrusive and nicely emphasize the piano part.

Closing out the recording are a set of three varied Russian air. Ries certainly loves a big dramatic opening, and this piece is no exception. Among the three Russian tunes set by Ries is the same Theme russe used in Beethoven’s String Quartet op.59/2, third movement. This energetic arrangement offers great interplay between the cello and piano. As is the case in some of the other pieces here, the ending feels a little abrupt; I was left wondering whether the work was actually over or if it was just a pause.

Rummel and Stroissnig perform the works admirably (other than the cuts, which are much to be regretted), with plenty of drama and sensitivity as called for. The recording balance between the cello and piano is excellent. The dynamics are significantly compressed as I find too often on Naxos releases; piano is seldom distinguishable from forte.

Despite some shortcomings, this release is an important one that I hope will lead people to rediscover Ries as a composer in his own right. The pieces here demonstrate that Beethoven was right to take young Ferdinand under his wing.

Mark S. Zimmer

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