Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: in C,
Piano Sonatinas: in B?,
Susan Kagan (pn)
NAXOS 8.570743 (73: 45)
Up until recently, it has pretty much been the job of the excellent German record company, cpo, to provide the interested collector with recordings of music by
Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838). Susan Kagan, a
contributor herself, has been furthering the cause on the Naxos label, though, and the present disc is the second volume of a projected series of the composer’s piano sonatas and sonatinas.
Ries was a tremendously popular composer in his lifetime. Virtually everything he wrote was published. Famously, he was Beethoven’s piano pupil (he was under Albrechtsberger for composition), and he was remarkable for his fusion of Beethovenian elements with foreshadowings of later composers such as Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Chopin. Thus, proto-Schubertian elements jostle with Beethovenian shadows in the first movement of the C-Major Sonata, op. 1/1 (the two sonatas, op. 1, were published in Bonn in 1807). On an immediate level, there are similarities between this sonata and Beethoven’s C-Major Sonata, op. 2/3; melodic decoration in the Adagio ma non tanto generally reflects the influence of Beethoven’s early piano style, also. Op.1/1 is the only sonata on the disc in four movements as opposed to three. It includes a charming Menuetto that, in a lesser performer’s hands, could degenerate into mere teaching material. Kagan lavishes it with all the affection she can muster, though, elevating its stature somewhat. The Rondo plays with meter (2/4 and 6/8) and is rather subdued in character.
The Second Sonata of the op. 1 set is in three movements. The minor mode immediately establishes a contrasting mood to the preceding C-Major. There is charm, and wit aplenty in the hybrid second movement, though, and the finale has a sort of subdued grazioso feel to it. The two sonatas actually work well as a pair, and listening straight through is an eminently satisfying experience.
The gap in expressive intent between “sonata” and “sonatina” is immediately apparent when Kagan launches into the slight B? Sonatina. An infinitely sweet bonbon, this Sonatina reaches back to early Haydn. The Andantino central movement is of a controlled stateliness. Nothing here is seriously going to disturb the general delicacy; the same goes for the companion F-Major Sonatina, despite a more determined second theme in its first movement. The first movement of this Sonatina effectively evaporates; out of the silence comes the charming D-Minor Andantino. And if you don’t smile at the finale, you haven’t got a pulse.
The piano sound (Kaufman Astoria Studios, Queens, New York) is well judged without being exceptional. What is exceptional is Kagan’s fervent, eloquent advocacy of Ries. She writes her own booklet notes, and they exude the air of someone steeped in this music. More, she coedited the editions used for the sonatinas (with Allan Badley, who single-handedly edited the sonatas—www.artaria.com).
The disc comes with a free download—follow the instructions and you too can have the Larghetto e cantabile from Hummel’s Fantasie, op. 18, played by Midoka Inui (from Naxos 8.557836, which I reviewed at the time of issue for an online journal and gave a mixed welcome).
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Piano Sonata in C, op 1 no 1: I. Allegro con brio
Piano Sonata in C, op 1 no 1: II. Adagio ma non tanto
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