RIES: Piano Trio & Sextets = Grand Sextet in C Major, Op. 100; Introduction and a Russian Dance, Op. 113/1; Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 143; Sextet in G Minor, Op. 142 – The Nash Ensemble – Hyperion CDA68380 (7/1/22) 78:15 [Distr. By PIAS] ****:
The name of composer Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) has been somewhat denigrated over time as a man who acted as an agent for Beethoven, helping to secure, in 1822, the commission from the Philharmonic Society of London for what became the Ninth Symphony. Ries, like Beethoven, had been a resident of Bonn, but poor prospects sent him in 1801 to Vienna, purposely, to study with Beethoven. Beethoven had in fact studied with Ries the elder; and so, Beethoven accepted Ries, along with Carl Czerny, as his two students. As Beethoven’s deafness limited his scope, Ries became more valuable to Beethoven’s ambitions.
In 1813, after years of wandering, Ries settled in London, there finding support from the same Johann Peter Salomon who had rendered Haydn financial support a generation prior. More coincidence: Salomon hailed from Bonn and had taught Ries’s own father! In the next eleven years, Ries experienced his most fruitful labors, having ingratiated himself to the Philharmonic Society, both as a composer and virtuoso pianist. The works here receiving attention from The Nash Ensemble all date from this London period of his creative life.
The extensive program begins with the sonorous Grand Sextet in C Major (1817) piano, two violins, cello and double bass. Rather symphonic in its ambitions, the first movement, Allegro con brio, exploits, in concerto format, in its progress, turbulent passages juxtaposed against moments of reflection. The broad freedom fluent runs allotted to the keyboard suggest the improvisatory nature of the Ries style, though a sweet moment occurs between the piano of Simon Craford Phillips and first violin Stephanie Gonley. Late in the movement, the writing becomes agitated momentarily, only to subside into glittery filigree we associate with the superficial side of Romantic bravura.
The second movement, Andante, capitalizes on the popular Irish tune, “The last rose of summer,” as a source for variations. A brief string introduction leads to a keyboard cadenza and then the theme, sweetly intoned a la John Field, then the variants. These follow conventionally elaborate procedure, with florid ornaments, a minor-mode shading, rapid arpeggios, roulades, and pizzicato strings. The last movement, Adagio – Allegro, abandons the concerto principle for a more uniform approach that takes the lithe rondo theme and divides it between the piano and the ensemble instruments. The style hovers between light Beethoven and Mendelssohn frolic, suave and polished without recourse to profundity.
From 1823, we hear the Ries Introduction and Russian Dance, for cello (Adrian Brendel) and piano (Benjamin Frith). The cello part conforms to the Beidermeier concept of approachable music for gifted amateurs and household use. The tripping, Russian tune soon emerges in rondo form, the slow introduction’s returning towards the finale. The agile, keyboard part, however, retains the bravura character of the leading player, the runs and octaves demanding a performer of more than basic skills.
The Trio in C Minor (1826) earned Beethoven’s rancor for its imitations of his style. The expansive first movement, Allegro con brio, emerges as a forceful dialogue between the solo piano (Simon Crawford Phillips) and the two strings (Stephanie Gonley, Adrian Brendel), rather more lyrical than demonically dramatic. The cello part (Brendel) seems more sonorously conceived than that for the violin (Gonley). Ries loves his upward, scalar runs in the keyboard, and the sweet harmonization with the strings over pedal points.
Pianist Phillips finds room for right-hand improvisation in the dreamy, middle movement, Adagio con espressione, while the two strings interchange melodies in competing registers. Note the four-note “fate” motif that permeates the reverie. Gonley’s violin becomes especially persuasive in this music. Following Haydn and selective Beethoven, the music proceeds attacca, into the last movement Finale: Prestissimo, here a virtuoso tarantella that tolerates interruptions from martial impulses. The scurrying tune achieves a rousing momentum, the keyboard part sporting hurtling cascades in 16ths and 32nds. The more martial passages hold sway at the finale, imbuing the coda with the kind flair we know from Carl Maria von Weber.
The Sextet in G Minor began its 1814 career as a duo for piano and harp, but it soon evolved into a more symphonic mode of colorful expression. Hugh Webb provides the liquid tone of the harp in the first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, accompanied by pianist Benjamin Frith and soon, by clarinetist Richard Hosford. Ursula Leveaux, bassoon; Richard Watkins, horn; and Graham Mitchell, double bass, complete the ensemble. The first movement plays as gracious outdoor music, a serenade or cassation whose ancestor is Mozart. The piano dominates the texture, sometimes in stentorian exclamations, sometimes in fertile runs in collaboration with a singing harp line. The animated coda proves engaging.
Piano and harp cadenzas dominate the second movement, Adagio con moto, wherein the other instruments act more in unison, block textures. The harmonic motion occasionally captures the ear, the suspended harmonies held firm by Mitchell’s double bass. The Rondo: Allegretto borrows from tzigane, gypsy elements, delicately intoned at first, then pairing off the piano and harp and the wind instruments and bass. When they unite at the coda, the happy resolution befits a work of clean, articulate craftsmanship.
Recorded 10-12 May 2021 with the sonic supervision by Andrew Keener, this album enjoys the consistent allure of clear ensemble, performed by individual members who blend magically with their colleagues.