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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This is the second volume in the Naxos Ries series devoted to his Piano Concertos (see review of volume 1). It’s proving to be a rather beguiling stroll through eclectic pathways, incomparably aided by some devoted, first class performances and recordings. As before the soloist is Christopher Hinterhuber, though this time the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has been replaced by the Gävle Symphony Orchestra. The conductor remains Uwe Grodd.

The Swedish National Airs with Variations opens with austere orchestral grandeur and then opens out into a rhapsodic dialogue between piano and accompanying, strongly subservient forces. The whole thing is attractively spun, full of rhythmic zest and alternating expressive sections – and plenty of dance rhythms. There are limited, though pregnant, opportunities for orchestral solos – and there’s a witty pay off to end the quarter of an hour variations.

A much later work is the Introduction and Polonaise. It’s altogether more genteel than the Variations in its opening Introduction before the gradual lead-in to the Polonaise. Ries uses the orchestral tuttis well here – they’re not simply Corinthian columns to support the superstructure – and the Polonaise, whilst hardly especially authentic, has a pleasurable albeit cosmopolitan profile. Not only are the tuttis accomplished but also the transitions, which could have been too paragraphical in other hands, are equally well done.

But it’s the 1812-13 C sharp minor that will invariably be the primary focus of interest. This was written at around the same time as the Swedish Variations. Opening with orchestral touches that reflect his Beethovenian lineage – especially in the brass writing – Ries manages to accumulate and dissipate tension deftly. The piano enters in media res and is offered plenty of exciting, scalar and virtuosic writing as well as a deal of toughly lyric things as well. The emergence of the lovely first movement theme over tremolo strings is an inspired piece of work. The slow movement has delicacy as well as more florid moments and the finale is packed with verve and virtuoso flourishes.

All these challenges are met square on by these forces, well recorded in Gävle Concert Hall back in January 2006. An endorsement of this second volume is easy to make, given the all round excellence of the package.



Haller
American Record Guide, January 2008

Ferdinand Ries was the son of the celebrated violinist Franz Anton Ries, who was both mentor and friend to the young Beethoven following the death of his mother, and it was destiny to be known to future generations not for his own compositions—highly praised in his time—but rather as Beethoven's biographer, co-author (with Franz Wegeler) of a highly informative and absorbing set of reminiscences that remains fascinating even today. …Yet Ries was first and foremost a consummate artist of the keyboard-skills he learned in large part at Beethoven's feet-and though we might readily detect the influence of the Titan, it's clear from the examples offered thus far in Christopher Hinterhuber's estimable survey for Naxos (Volume 1 8.557638) that for all Beethoven's grumbling that Ries "imitates me too much" the works for keyboard he left us are both original and stimulating.

But he left them to us in some considerable disarray, it would seem—including the concertos. There are eight in all, or nine if you count his violin concerto, which survives only in an arrangement for piano and violin. The C-sharp minor heard here is generally called his third but is really his fourth, unless you include the revised violin concerto—then it's the fifth and in fact dates from well after the "Sixth" heard on the first installment. Indeed, the notewriter here says that the "Sixth" may actually be Ries's first concerto (sigh). It does get confusing.

The manuscript has come down to us in a sorry state, but the concerto has been recorded twice from the 1815 Simrock edition. (Parts and scores for all the Ries piano concertos offered by Naxos thus far are available at www.artaria.com.)

The listener may appreciate the almost militant grandeur of the opening tutti (Allegro maestoso). This confident forward stride immediately conjures Beethoven, yet there's a gentle lyricism to the almost Chopinesque second subject. There's a romantic interlude midway in, where the piano sets forth an entirely new theme of exquisite beauty over hushed tremolos in the strings that might point to Field or Mendelssohn more than Beethoven and clearly stamps the concerto as the work of a master. But this fragile moment is short-lived; first and foremost this is a dialog on equal footing, bravura passagework by the soloist returned in kind by the full force of the orchestra. While you're listening to it it seems that it must be one of the major concertos for piano.

The remarkably introspective Larghetto, unfolding guilelessly in Chopin's most romantic style, offers brief respite before the horns launch an irrepressible and high-spirited Rondo that seems to expand on a familiar melody from Paganini's VC 1 written some five or six years later, spelled only when absolutely necessary by a more delicate curlicue motif. In this exuberant romp Ries gives no quarter and Hinterhuber clearly asks for none—an exhilarating display. At 10:54 it does go on. Certainly the answer isn't simply making a couple of hefty cuts like Felicja Blumental (Brana; Sept/Oct 2003 & Nov/Dec 2006). Neither the Salzburg ensemble nor the Hamburg players who support Maria Littauer in the Vox Box (5111) can approach the massive sound of the Gävle Symphony under Uwe Grodd's committed leadership, while Littauer seems to get through the virtuoso figurations pretty much on a wing and a prayer.

Brand new to disc is the remarkably inventive Introduction and Polonaise. Unlike the finale of the concerto, it never outstays its welcome; Ries keeps coming up with fresh ideas. Here again one can't help thinking of Chopin in his deft and spirited polacca rhythms, and Hinterhuber never pushes it, disporting with finesse and panache. The Swedish variations are based on several contrasting national airs and offer ample opportunity for florid display, but the Introduction and Polonaise is the real find. These shorter examples are good to have, and no one who already owns the concerto with Blumental or Littauer need hesitate.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2007

Ries was born the same year as Beethoven, became his pupil, and in time evolved into his personal secretary and amanuensis, up to the time of the master's death. Ries was not lacking in ambition or talent - as evidenced in this recording of the Piano concerto in c sharp and the two other 'pieces d'occasion'. It's an excellent concerto (one of eight), and was born (as was the Swedish National Airs & Variations) out of a requirement for becoming a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Beethoven's influence is evident - not a bad thing - and the performance by pianist Hinterhuber sparkles, with excellent support from the orchestra and sonics to match.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

Franz Anton Ries taught the young Beethoven, and it was Beethoven who then became the piano teacher for his son, Ferdinand, this relationship growing to a lasting friendship. Born in Germany in 1784, Fedinand’s move to London in 1813 changed his life, the dearth of quality musicians there placing him as the England’s finest pianist-composer of his time. He was to build such a personal fortune that at the age of 40 he retired, returning with his English wife to his native Rhineland. He had composed a sizeable catalogue including stage works and symphonies, though it was music involving the piano that dominated his output. Eight concertos have survived, those numbered 2 - 9 being for piano, numbers six and eight having appeared in an earlier Naxos release, and I commented at the time that Ries’s decorative style of writing was a foretaste of Chopin’s music yet to come. The numbering is misleading, the C sharp minor described as the Third Concerto is actually the fourth in order of composition, its exact date of completion unknown though it was probably around 1812. Lasting over half and hour and in three movements, its slow Largehetto is uncommonly brief, while it’s bubbly finale could well - if he ever heard it - have inspired Mendelssohn. We are told the autograph score has many holes in the scoring, but it here receives a most pleasing account from the young Austrian-born, Christopher Hinterhuber. Playing around with its filigree to add a real sense of period style, and I particularly enjoyed his big and bold approach to the disc’s opening work, the Swedish National Airs and Variations. It is a particularly fine score that would show Beethoven as his mentor, and pictures Reis a pleasing offshoot of his teaching. The Introduction and Polonaise is a late piece dating from 1833 - five years before his death - and though the disc’s note writer cannot find “a great deal of Beethoven” in the score, it does, in fact have Beethoven’s fingerprints all over it. It is again splendidly played by Hinterhuber, Uwe Grood much more than a passive accompanist as he shapes the music with such commitment. Given the outstanding playing of the Swedish orchestra, this is a real discovery.






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1:03:19 PM, 21 August 2014
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