Ferdinand Ries: Piano Concertos, Vol. 4by Christopher Hinterhuber
Ferdinand Ries was a confidant of Beethoven and a composer and pianist who followed him rather slavishly. Well known during his lifetime, he was gradually forgotten after his death. This isn't hard to understand, for his works are on balance imitative; other composers of the era understood Beethoven's example better by either avoiding it (Schubert) or trying to match its extremity (Mendelssohn, in the "Symphony No. 2"). Yet the revival of Ries' works helps modern listeners understand how Beethoven's contemporaries heard his music. This disc, part of a series on the Naxos label devoted to Ries' piano concertos, contains a pair of works that gives a good impression of his music. The "Piano Concerto in C minor, Op. 115," is a warmed-over version of Beethoven's "Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37." More interesting for general listeners is the "Concerto Pastoral in D major, Op. 120," whose first movement mashes up the conventions used by Beethoven in the "Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, Pastoral," with a brilliant concerto form. Ries shows skill in knitting these ideas together, and he matches the unusual opening movement with a diverse finale that announces its amibitions right off with the flat seven step in the opening material and proceeds to a loose, lyrical structure that doesn't resemble Beethoven much at all. This concerto, 28 minutes long, would make an ideal curtain raiser for one of the Beethoven concertos in concert. Pianist Christopher Hinterhuber and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd plunge into these works with gusto, and the sound has a nice directness. Recommended for those interested in the early Romantic period.
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Ferdinand Ries is best remembered today (if at all) as Beethoven's personal assistant. Although he served that role well - securing performances, publication deals and more - that wasn't originally why their paths crossed. Ries came to Beethoven in 1803 to study composition. Like his mentor, Ries was a piano virtuoso as well as a composer. His piano concertos were written primarily for his own use, to provide material he could use in performance - a standard practice of the day for any touring virtuoso. Naxos has released four volumes of Ries' concerti, the most recent featuring two of these works plus a shorter fantasia for piano and orchestra. So what does Ries' music sound like? Sort of like a kinder, gentler Beethoven. His works have the same general structure, with some of the same harmonic turns that Beethoven favored. You'll also hear big orchestral chords hammering away at important cadence points. But there the similarities end. Ries is more concerned with tuneful melodies than delivering pronouncements from on high. His motifs are light and appealing. While the solo piano part is challenging technically, it's more about taking the listener along on a thrilling melodic journey rather than fully exploring the potential of either the instrument or the motifs. Stylistically, Ferdinand Ries straddles the late classical and early romantic era. The Introduction et Rondeau Brillant Wo54 which appears on this release, is a good illustration of that. While not entirely free of Beethoven's influence, Ries' work seems more Schubertian in its free-form development. Pianist Christopher Hinterhuber turns in a top-notch performance on this recording (as does Uwe Grodd and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). His playing is light and fluid - perfectly suited to this material - yet it has power when it needs to. Hinterhuber really makes the cadenzas sparkle, and gives the impression that Ries' music is actually fun to play. An appealing collection of works for piano and orchestra!