RIES: Piano Concertos, Vol. 1 (Christopher Hinterhuber/ New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/ Uwe Grodd) (Naxos: 8.557638)
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Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos, Volume 1: Opp. 123 and 151
As one of the greatest pianists in Europe of his time anda composer of exceptional ability it is surprising that thename Ferdinand Ries is not better known today. Indeed,the neglect of most of his major works is even moreinexplicable given his long association with Beethoven.
In most other circumstances this would have promptedan exhaustive study of his music but in Ries's case thishas not happened. One of the reasons for this may lie inhis publication of an important book of reminiscencesabout Beethoven which has proved to be of suchcompelling interest to scholars that they haveconcentrated on it rather than his music. Of his owncareer comparatively little has been written. Over theyears there have been sporadic performances andrecordings of some of Ries's chamber works and, morerecently, of his very impressive symphonies. Theconcertos, however, have until now remained curiouslyunexplored. This recording is the first in a projectedseries of Ries's complete works for piano and orchestra.
Ries's connections with Beethoven began in Bonnwhere his father Franz, a professional violinist andpianist, taught Beethoven. Ries, too, studied with hisfather and also received cello lessons from BernhardRomberg for whom Beethoven later wrote his Op. 5Cello Sonatas. When the electoral court was dissolved in1794 Ries found himself without the prospect of asecure position and for the next seven years remained athome studying with his father. In 1801 he moved toMunich where he eked out a fairly precarious existenceas a copyist while taking lessons with Peter von Winter.
In October he left for Vienna where Beethoven, nowwell-established as a pianist and composer, agreed totake him on as a pupil.
During Ries's three years of study with Beethovenhe acted frequently as his secretary and copyist which,of course, lent great credibility to his later writings.
Beethoven did not teach Ries composition - for that hewent to Albrechtsberger, Kapellmeister at St Stephen'sCathedral - but his influence on Ries's development asa composer nonetheless was profound. Beethoven alsosmoothed his introduction into Viennese musical circlesfirst by securing for him a position as pianist to CountBrowne in Baden, one of Beethoven's own patrons, andin organizing his debut (as Beethoven's pupil) on 1stAugust 1804 at which he gave a performance of the Cminor Piano Concerto, Op. 37, with cadenzas of his owncomposition. With the risk of conscription into theFrench Army looming, Ries returned to Bonn viaPrague, Dresden and Leipzig and later travelled on toParis having being turned down as unfit for militaryservice. He languished in Paris for two years beforereturning to Vienna in August 1808 where he stayed forjust under a year.
Ries's career seems to have finally taken off in 1809and during the next four years he toured extensivelythroughout Europe. He was appointed a member of theSwedish Royal Academy of Music in 1813 and thefollowing year published an impressive set of variationsfor piano and orchestra based on Swedish national airs.
The next eleven years of Ries's life were spent inLondon where he enjoyed a successful career as acelebrated virtuoso, teacher and composer. His father'sformer teacher, Johann Peter Salomon, who will foreverbe remembered as the impresario who brought Haydn toLondon, introduced Ries to the Philharmonic Concertswhere he appeared for the first time on 14th March1814. Ries's success in London was by no meansassured as he was only one of several great virtuosibased there. Nonetheless, his playing was clearly of avery high order and impressed not only the public butalso his fellow professionals. Camille Pleyel, son of thecomposer and publisher Ignaz Pleyel and himself anoutstandingly gifted musician, wrote in a letter to hisparents concerning his recent experiences in London: