RIES: Piano Concerto Nos. 8 & 9  – Piers Lane, piano/ The Orchestra NOW/ Leon Botstein – Hyperion 

The virtuosic, colorful style of Ferdinand Ries has a potent acolyte in Piers Lane.

RIES: Piano Concerto No. 8 in A-flat Major, Op. 151 “Gruss an den Rhein”; Introduction and Polonaise, Op. 174; Piano Concerto No. 9 in G minor, Op. 177  – Piers Lane, piano/ The Orchestra NOW/ Leon Botstein – Hyperion CDA68217, 73:23 (4/27/18) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****: 

A piano virtuoso celebrated for his ‘romantic wildness,” Rhinelander Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) had been a piano student of Beethoven, and he later served the great Bonn master as secretary and copyist. After various stints and interruptions in his career in Vienna and Paris, Ries made his way to London, where he had residence from 1813-1824. Having befriended Johann Peter Salomon, Ries became involved in the Philharmonic Concerts, encouraging his gift for compositions, including six symphonies, piano concertos, individual keyboard pieces, and chamber works.  In 1826, Ries celebrated his return to the Rhineland with his Piano Concerto No. 8 (pub. 1827) with its subtitle “Greetings to the Rhine.”

Ries follows Beethoven in his penchant for broad orchestral introductions to his first movements, here, a lyrical Allegro con moto that includes trumpet and tympani work that might be attributed to Beethoven or Mendelssohn. the expressive interplay of flutes and clarinets adds an especial coloring that omits the more plangent tone oboes provide. The piano part exudes in brilliant runs and flourishes that already contain much that might fill a cadenza.  The sudden shifts in key signatures prove arresting: the move from E-flat Major to B Major comes from a sudden impulse for lyrical drama, much in the manner of Hummel and Chopin. Lane relishes the flamboyance and glitter that sails through the filigree of pulsing strings and bombastic horn work.  By circuitous routes, the piano has a charming melody in C-flat, just to announce the recapitulation.  Lane has moments of repeated runs over a luxurious pedal, while the strings and horns bask in large, suspended harmonies. There seems less tension than simply the contrast of flourishing textures, rife with the elan of exuberant fioritura for its own sake. Lane has no formal. The Larghetto in F Major has all the appeal of a motif from Mozart or early Beethoven. The textural delicacy well anticipates Chopin in its nocturnal evocations, rife with Lane’s added passing notes and pearly play.   The color includes bassoons, clarinets, and horns, along with plucked strings set against the piano’s clearly enunciated arioso, producing a dreamy, rich tapestry of sound. The finale: Rondo: Allegro molto dispenses with sentimentality in favor of a rousing gallop, quite in a Mendelssohnian style, stomping and singing, alternately.  Out of the orchestra a deliberate allusion to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony emerges. In the midst of flying, slightly manic fioritura a martial tune develops, half Mozart and half Chopin. Just a impulsively, the music storms ahead in C minor with a fierce resolve that must pay homage to Beethoven. The spry spirit of the music dismisses anything like Romantic gloom in favor of the hustle and lithe energy we attribute to Weber, Mendelssohn, Field, and Hummel in their unbuttoned moods. The brilliance of the recording (11-13 January 2017), courtesy of producer Rachel Smith, quite enriches the ambience of one’s music room.

Ries composed his Introduction and Polonaise in 1833 in Rome, arranging the original Polish dance to suit his own taste. The brief tutti opening might remind some of the calls to attention used by Arthur Sullivan to seat audiences at his operettas. Solo piano and French horn in combination—a device cherished by Weber, Chopin, and Schumann—sets the tone for the succeeding keyboard rhapsody and cadenza that lead into the Polonaise. Monster scalar passages and glittering staccato runs define a real tour-de-force in bravura writing and digital dexterity. Several of the pomposo expressions remind us of the last movement of Beethoven’s “Triple” Concerto. Nice flute work complements Lane’s flashy poetics. An excursion into a minor-mode version of the rondo creates some arresting color that Chopin may have co-opted for his own F minor Concerto.

Ries had a home in Frankfurt am Main when he composed his Piano Concerto No. 9 in G minor (1833). Less active as a touring virtuoso than he had been, Ries still conducted orchestras at the Lower Rhine Music Festivals. The Concerto opens Allegro, with pizzicato B-flat taps in the strings that would seem to invoke the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  The woodwinds quickly guide us into the home key of G minor and its moments of sturm und drang, much in the manner of Carl Maria von Weber. Horns and flutes have melodic interest for us. As in the A-flat Concerto, the solo will enter at the peak of an orchestral crescendo.  Piano and tympani converse for some dramatic collaboration and a full-fledged melody in the strings. The freedom of modulation Ries exercises justifies his “wild” repute at the keyboard, and Lane makes the sonorities magically attractive as possible. By degrees, the recapitulation has brightened in tone, from G Minor to G Major, again in an optimistic spirit akin to Beethoven and Mendelssohn.

Like Chopin, Ries colors his Larghetto con moto in D Major with lyrical elements taken from Bellini and bel canto. Muted strings accompany a series of flourishes and romantic reveries by Lane. The French horn once more contributes to the coloration. In the central section, Lane and orchestra dispel the rapture with (martial) digressions in harmony, beginning in E-flat Major.  Ries arranges for a Hungarian-style Rondo: Allegro last movement that will subsume virtuoso elements in 16th note octaves and thirds into the keyboard writing, the legacy of contemporaries Dussek and Clementi. The movement opens with a rush, a gallop in crescendo followed by Lane in his scalar glories. Typically, the tonal progressions move with spontaneous fluency and whimsy that a fertile keyboard imagination and corresponding technique may supply. The dancing figures remain light and fleet, moving eventually into the G Major mode of the coda Lane and Botstein have whipped up a parfait in Romantic piano texture that proves more than memorable, effective, and surprisingly substantive.

—Gary Lemco

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