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Ferdinand Ries

Piano concertos in C Op123 (1806); in Ab Op151 ‘Gruss an den Rhein' (1826)

Christopher Hinterhuber (piano]

New Zealand Symphony orchestra / Uwe Grodd


Naxos 8.557638


With the advent of the CD, the coverage of traditional repertoire, whether in new recording or reissue, swiftly reached saturation point. ‘B' and ‘C' list composers, for some years now, have had their chance. This is seldom as rewarding in aesthetic terms as it is edifying musicologically. Reviving the neglected compositions of the past confirms the superiority of the ones that survived; indeed, we marvel all the more at how Bach, Mozart or Beethoven managed to transcend the formal demands of their styles. In the same way, a Rembrandt or a Vermeer seems to leap off the wall if we walk into a gallery mostly of their contemporaries, and the Eighties' movement to give equal weight to all literature of the past, not just the established ‘greats,' has rightly tailed away.

Why do we find the music of such ‘forgotten' composers inferior? Usually, there are three reasons – lack of stylistic innovation, unmemorable melodic material and lack of imagination in development. Unfortunately, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) in these concertos ticks these boxes.


Both finales have trite main themes, the slow movement of Op 151 sets up an evocatively Romantic mood, but is composed of disjointed elements, The first movements are above all memorable for those passages that are directly derivative of Beethoven. Beethoven himself complained that Ries imitated him too much. Certainly, the later Ab concerto quotes from Symphony 7 in the first movement, the Pastoral in the last, and is reminiscent of both the two last Beethoven piano concertos.


In fairness, Ries' music is not without champions, e.g. Dr David Wright, (who in the same article claims Salieri's superiority to Mozart!) 


The Naxos notes helpfully state the obvious affinity between the C major, Op 123 (composed early, but with a high opus number because of later publication) and the Beethoven C major and minor piano concertos. But the kinship between the opening phrase of Op123 and the start of the Beethoven Triple concerto is even more marked – and musicologically interesting - since Ries was Beethoven's pupil around 1803-4, when the Triple concerto was being written. Crucially, the Triple was not performed and published till 1808 (it has itself the later opus number of 56); Ries must have known the rising and falling broken chord motif privately. The later concerto is clearly ‘Chopinesque' (it pre-dates Chopin's arrival in Paris and his concertos of 1829 and 30, so here we are speaking stylistically)


Rare repertoire is also a happy hunting ground for the performer who wishes not to be ruthlessly exposed in more familiar terrain. Why go up against Kovacevich or Kempff in Beethoven concertos, when you can make the first, and therefore literally incomparable, recording of a work. However, Hinterhuber's playing has great clarity and brio. Grodd and the NZ symphony are able partners; the phrasing is excellently shaped throughout. The disc is well produced – the colour illustration is from the same milieu and period as the music, the recorded sound is clear and bright.


This is part of a project to record all eight of the piano concertos. Ries was a significant figure in music history; he was well respected as a pianist, he had a close and well-documented relationship with Beethoven at certain times of his life, his reminiscences of which are probably what has brought him most fame. This recording is of interest for music history, but although fashion changes and many composers find fame only posthumously, I doubt this corpus will ever attain the stature of Beethoven or Chopin.


© Ying Chang