FERDINAND RIES: Piano Concertos, Vol. 4 = Concerto Pastoral in D, Op. 120; Piano Concerto in C Minor, Op. 115; Introduction et Rondeau Brilliant WoO54 – Christopher Hinterhuber, piano/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Uwe Grodd – Naxos

by | Dec 31, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

FERDINAND RIES: Piano Concertos, Volume 4 = Concerto Pastoral in D, Op. 120; Piano Concerto in C Minor, Op. 115; Introduction et Rondeau Brilliant WoO54 – Christopher Hinterhuber, piano/ Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Uwe Grodd – Naxos 8.572088 71:26 *****:

In the distant past when the LP was the only game in town, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was represented by a single work, the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 55, which had enough Beethovenian oomph to make a splash. Today, thanks to those enterprising labels CPO and Naxos, we have available on disc all eight of Ries’s symphonies, many of his solo piano and chamber works, and even his late Mendelssohnian oratorio Die Könige in Israel. Now, with the release of Volume 4 in the series of Ries’s piano concertos, it appears we’ll soon have all nine of the concertos available, too—a happy prospect.

Both the numbering of and opus numbers assigned to the piano concertos are confusing. Nos. 1 and 2 have no opus numbers, while Concerto No. 6, Op. 123, was written before both No. 4, Op. 115, and No. 5, Op. 120. The reason for this confusion is that Ries, as a widely performing pianist-composer, held off publishing his concertos as long as they featured in his active repertoire. When he more or less retired a concerto in favor of newer ones, he deigned to publish it. Both Op. 115 and Op. 120 first appeared in print in 1823, though Op. 115 was written as many as fourteen years earlier. These two concertos illustrate Ries’s constant movement away from the tidal pull of Beethoven’s influence. Op. 115 of 1809 still has those big stentorian tutti that speak Beethoven’s native language; however, the piano writing already evinces the brilliant filigree work that Ries shares with his slightly older contemporary Hummel. As with Ries’s Op. 55, also in C minor, the first movement of Op. 115 recalls Beethoven’s C Minor Concerto (No. 3), but the slow movement has a dreamy, early-Romantic air to it that calls John Field to mind.

Even more Romantic in feel is Op. 120 (circa 1816), which apparently Ries himself nicknamed Concerto Pastoral. The horn calls in the second and third movements underscore the bucolic nature of the concerto. But Ries’s most imaginative touch is to dispense with violins in the songful slow movement, beginning with a tender melody for solo cello and later including the dulcet sounds of violas divisi and two bassoons, followed by solo horn. The last movement rondo has a refreshing, open-air quality with the atmosphere of the hunt about it, thanks to the jaunty rhythms and those aforementioned horn calls.

With its dramatic minor-key introduction and nearly cloudless finale, the Introduction et Rondo Brilliant of 1835 is in the vein of other Romantic-era single-movement concerted works like Mendelssohn’s Capriccio Brilliant or Schumann’s Introduction and Allegro appasionato and seems like them to have some unspoken program behind it. It’s an attractive work that’s about as far removed from Beethoven’s influence as Mendelssohn’s piece is, showing that Ries continued to evolve as a composer even as his performing career declined toward the end of his life.

As in the prior installments in this series, Naxos has found precisely the right combination of artists to do these works justice. Ewa Grodd, whose work I’ve admired in Classical-era pieces by Dittersdorf and Vanhal, is just as comfortable in early-Romantic music and accompanies with understanding and grace, while the Bournemouth Symphony seems to have come into its own recently with a series of successful recordings by British and American composers. Then there is Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber, who was just appointed professor of piano at the University for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. I hope this doesn’t take him away from the recording studio because he’s one of the finest pianists you’ll hear in the early-Romantic repertoire, with both taste and technique to burn.

If you’ve been collecting this series, you won’t need any special prodding from me. If you haven’t begun, by all means do; offering as it does two grand, fully mature concertos by Ries, Volume 4 is a very good place to start.

— Lee Passarella

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