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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2006

This is another magnificent disc of discovery from the adventurous folks at Naxos. Dating from 1806 and 1826 the two romantic piano concertos by the German composer Ferdinand Ries presented here are absolutely delightful. Orchestrally speaking both owe a great debt to Ludwig van Beethoven, which is not surprising considering Ries was closely associated and even studied with him. However, he was still his own man and the piano writing, particularly in the later one, calls to mind such composers as John Field, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Felix Mendelssohn, and even points the way towards what would come from Frederic Chopin. Granted the gigantic shadow cast by the great Ludwig has certainly obscured his student's considerable body of work, but the magnificent playing of the very talented Christopher Hinterhuber and highly accomplished accompaniment provided by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under Uwe Grodd may well help bring it into the sunlight. This is some of the most engaging music recently unearthed and you'll be happy to know that this release is only the first volume in what will hopefully be a series of discs devoted to all eight of Ries's piano concertos. Once you've digested everything here, do try his symphonies as well as the music of Alexander Ernst Fesca, Georges Onslow, Ludwig Spohr and Johann Willem Wilms, all of whom were also eclipsed by the man from Bonn.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, January 2006

An hour of sheer delight here. Ferdinand Ries is probably best known for his associations with Beethoven. Here is an opportunity to hear how he sounds on his own two compositional feet in two world premiere recordings.

And excellent they are, too. Christopher Hinterhuber is a pupil of Lazar Berman, and something of his mentor's facility has obviously rubbed off. Scores which are presumably often black with semiquavers clearly are bread and water to this pianist. The 'Gruss an den Rhein' concerto (first on the disc; second in the booklet notes) was composed at Bad Godesberg. Ries grew up in the area of the Rhine, and something of that river's unhurried majesty is conveyed in the first movement. The orchestra's opening is warm and very, very welcoming, for example. Hinterhuber revels in the sparkling piano writing, often very close to Chopin in its filigree.

The slow movement (Larghetto con moto) is only five minutes long but is a lovely Nocturne that reveals the warmth carried by the recording. The finale is prefaced by a cadenza; dazzling fingerwork here. When it arrives properly, this last movement is as jolly as they come. To its credit, the New Zealand orchestra manages to sound involved throughout; no easy task surely in works that are clearly designed as pianistic showcases.

The C major Concerto, Op. 123 seems closer to Hummel than Chopin, with liberal dollops of Beethoven along the way. The first movement is a dramatic entity, with Ries surely trying a couple of things along the way. The recording in this case seems particularly well-balanced in forte, opening out nicely. There is much fantasy here too; only the cadenza tends towards the weak.

The long and restful 'Larghetto quasi andante' includes a lovely clarinet solo and a dark central section before the sparkling rondo-finale - quite suave at times - rounds off a most enjoyable disc. When the orchestra opts to add a 'raw' edge, it is as if it is nodding in the direction of the 'authentic'. A nice touch.

An excellent disc. One of the beauties of Naxos is that one can experiment with rare repertoire at low cost. Here that cost is certainly justified.

Gramophone, January 2006

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Scott Morrison, December 2005

If Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is remembered at all today it is probably due to his early biography of Beethoven (written with F. G. Wegeler) who had been his piano teacher. (He did not study composition with Beethoven, who sent him to Albrechtsberger for that purpose. However, he acted as Beethoven's copyist for several years and undoubtedly learned a lot from that.) He was a virtuoso pianist and skilled composer, writing much for the piano, as well as in other genres. He wrote eight piano concertos; the two here were composed about twenty years apart. The later of the two, the A Flat Concerto, Op. 151, written in 1826, occurs first on the CD. It sounds like a cross between Hummel and Mendelssohn in the outer movements. The Larghetto, though, has melodies very much like those written at about that same time by Bellini (and they anticipate those of Chopin in their florid songfulness). The concerto has a subtitle, 'Gruss an den Rhein,' in honor of the area of Germany where Ries had grown up and to which he had just returned from a sojourn in England. The piano writing in this concerto is very virtuosic and is handled with aplomb and musicianly skill by the young Austrian pianist, Christopher Hinterhuber.

The earlier Concerto in C Major, Op. 123 was written in 1806. It has more of the Hummelesque than the later concerto and although it is expertly done there is a fair amount of note-spinning and occasionally less than expert filling-in of accompanimental voices. Still, it has exciting and memorable outer movements notable for their bustling energy. The Larghetto is my favorite movement of all on this CD, largely because it reminds me a good deal of the middle movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto, K. 488. Its main melody is classically lovely; we haven't yet come to the florid Bellini-like melody of the later concerto.

Hinterhuber is a marvelous technician in these difficult concertos and what's more he plays with musicianly proportion and phrasing. He is given excellent support by the fine New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under conductor Uwe Grodd. Sound is crystal clear, warm and life-like.

There have been some other recordings of music by Ries that have appeared in the last few years, including a complete survey of his valuable symphonies on cpo and a disc of chamber music on Naxos.

Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, April 2001

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) wrote eight piano concertos, and Naxos is endeavoring to record all of them. This is the first installment. Because the works are numbered not in their order of composition but in the order of their publication, Naxos has dispensed entirely with the numbering on this issue. (For what it's worth, the C-major concerto was the sixth to be published although it is an early work, dating from 1806. The A flat-major concerto, also known as "Gruss an den Rhein," comes from 1826.)

Ries was a pupil and friend of Beethoven, who apparently complained that Ries imitated him too much. Ries' symphonies – the ones that I have heard, anyway – definitely reveal him to be a chip off the old block, although not on the same level as his mentor, of course. Beethoven's influence can be heard in these concertos too, and also Hummel's, but what is more remarkable about these works is the way in which they either anticipate or echo Chopin's two youthful piano concertos. Ries was a fine pianist in an era of fine pianists, and it is likely that he wrote his concertos – at times poetic and mellow, and at other times brilliant and sparkling – to show off his not inconsequential talents at the keyboard. For the most part, these are sunny works. When melancholy's cloud passes over, it is quickly dispelled by skittish passagework or by a rustic or martial strain. This music is neither deep nor original, then, but it is extremely enjoyable.

Christopher Hinterhuber is a young Austrian pianist with a brilliant technique. The notes in his runs are as clean and even as pearls in a necklace, and he uses an appropriately light touch throughout. It must be tempting to turn the A flat-major concerto into "Son of the 'Emperor'," if you will, but he resists the temptation. One could imagine the lyrical passages being played with a little more warmth, but it is good that Hinterhuber erred on the side of making these concertos seem more Classical than Romantic. Uwe Grodd, who has conducted some excellent Dittersdorf CDs (among others) for this label, seems to be in his element here. (The orchestra plays a more important role than it does in the two Chopin concertos, but not as important as in the Beethoven piano concertos.) The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra attacks its introductions and ritornellos with relish. Naxos's engineering is excellent, as are the booklet notes. This is worth a listen.

Michael Carter

Given the fact that Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was once viewed as one of the finest pianists in Europe, not to mention an exceptional composer, it is surprising that his name and music are not better known today. The reason may be that most scholars have been interested in Ries's book of recollections about Beethoven and, until recently, few have turned an eye toward his music. However, that has begun to change, as over the last few years, the German label CPO has recorded all eight of Ries's symphonies and late in 2005 embarked on a cycle of his string quartets. While still in its early stages, the slow but steady exhumation and re-evaluation of Ries 's music continues and in my opinion, each new release serves to underscore the fact that the neglect of Ries 's music has been unwarranted. The problem was that Ries was overshadowed by the revolutionary genius of his contemporary and friend, Beethoven.

The men had a long-standing friendship; it began in Bonn where Ries's father taught Beethoven. When the court was disbanded in 1794, Ries continued to study with his father, moving to Munich in 1801. Later that year, Ries relocated to Vienna where the well-established Beethoven agreed to take him on as a piano student. During their three-year professional relationship, Ries acted as Beethoven's secretary and copyist, lending further credibility to the aforementioned assemblage of recollections.

Even though Ries was a composition student of Albrechtsberger, Beethoven's music cast a spell on his younger friend, so much so that Beethoven once said of Ries's music, "He imitates me too much." Ries's career seems to have taken off in 1809, and between then and 1824 Ries spent four years in Stockholm and 11 more in London, where his reputation and the appreciation for his music solidified.

Ries composed nine concertos, one for the violin and eight for the piano. Even though the piano concertos were numbered sequentially in the order of publication,they were not engraved in the order in which they were written. For example, the Concerto No.6, published in 1824, was the fifth published, but probably the first composed, as the autograph is dated Bonn 1806.

This first release in a cycle of his piano concertos by Naxos offers further material by which to judge Ries's abilities as a composer and pianist. The concertos on this disc are separated by two decades, and afford us the opportunity to examine the composer's development. Op. 123 was quilled not long after Ries's studies with Beethoven, while op. 151 was written two years after his return from London and bears the subtitle "Gruss an den Rhein," an affectionate tribute to the region in which he grew up. While op. 123 unquestionably inhabits the world of Beethoven, op. 151 adumbrates the music of Chopin, especially in the delicate and lovely Larghetto.

Klaus Heymann and Naxos are well known for their forays into the brushwood of music history in an effort to find neglected gems, and they have succeeded yet again. Even though they may lack the indisputable genius and innovative qualities found in Beethoven's concertos, they hold the listener's attention and augur well for Ries's contemporary reputation as performer and composer. This is not profound music, but it is unquestionably music of strength, character, and appeal. Furthermore, it offers formidable technical challenges to all who open the scores.

Christopher Hinterhuber is an established artist with an exceptionally well-stocked toolbox that allows him to confront the technical and expressive difficulties of Ries's concertos and come out a win­ner. His digital dexterity is first-rate and his ability to extract the brilliance as well as the emotion from Ries's scores is equally impressive. Uwe Grodd may well be one of the most underrated conductors active today. He has distinguished himself in numerous Naxos releases, and this is no exception. Grodd and the excellent New Zealand Symphony Orchestra-perhaps the finest in the Pacific Rim-succeed in offering performances that are wholly committed by way of excitement, sentiment, and drama. Sonics are first-rate, too, and in keeping with Naxos's bright but never constricted audio perspective.

If you don't know Ries's music, this budget release from Naxos offers an excellent introduction. Once you're hooked, move on to the symphonies on CPO; I can almost guarantee that you won't regret it!

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group