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Ries: Piano Concertos Vol 5 / Christopher Hinterhuber

Ries / Hinterhuber / New Zealand Symphony / Grodd
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572742   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Christopher Hinterhuber
Conductor:  Uwe Grodd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 18 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RIES Piano Concertos: No. 2 in Eb, Op. 42; No. 9 in g, Op. 177. Introduction and Rondo brilliant, Op. 144 Christopher Hinterhuber (pn); Uwe Grodd, cond; New Zealand SO NAXOS 8.572742 (78:06)

If you can listen to the concluding Rondo movement of Ries’s G-Minor Concerto without laughing out loud, you’re a better person than I. Its twee twaddle is Read more an embarrassment to trivial drivel. If only Beethoven had consented to instruct Ries in composition instead of just piano, we might have been spared this musical indiscretion. But instead, Beethoven sent Ries to Albrechtsberger for lessons in harmony and composition—Albrechtsberger, the man who wrote concertos for jew’s harp and mandora. It explains a lot.

Joking aside, as I listened to these works for piano and orchestra by Ferdinand Ries, three things struck me. One, Ries must have been a consummate virtuoso to have composed and performed these keyboard showpieces. Two, this music is not so terribly different from, or out of step with, that of Ries’s almost exact contemporary, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, as well as that of other famous pianist-composers of the era, such as Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Peter Pixis, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and Sigismond Thalberg. And three, not an insignificant number of these composers’ works were inspired, motivated, and informed by the popularity of early 19th-century Italian and French opera. Many of the piano works of this period—and not just the countless opera paraphrases and variations—were, in effect, operatic scenas transferred to the concert hall and salon. Nor was it just pianists who frequently borrowed opera arias by Rossini, Bellini, and Meyerbeer, to name just three popular sources of material, for instrumental treatment. Paganini did likewise in several such works for violin.

We tend to think of Beethoven as having altered the musical landscape of the 19th century, and in crucial and fundamental ways he did. But the one thing he didn’t change was the general public’s appetite for “entertainment” music, which often involved circus-like displays of daring virtuosity. This sideshow, if you will, persisted through the end of the 19th century and well into the 20th, and we witness it not just with Liszt, but with a host of pianist-composers that followed him.

These concertos and works for piano and orchestra by Ries fall largely into this category of popular entertainment music. They’re not short in length—30 minutes apiece for each of the concertos and 18 minutes for the Introduction and Rondo brilliant —but they’re short on content, following, as they do, the tried, tested, and true formula for virtuosic display concertos of the period. A call to attention in the form of a busy, boisterous orchestral exposition prepares for the soloist’s showy entrance. The recipe then calls for dazzling the audience with extended passages of finger contorting keyboard calisthenics, intermittently relieved by contrasting passages of mediocre melodic lyricism that imitate the operatic bel canto style. Or, to quote a missed voice from Fanfare ’s pages, Susan Kagan, who reviewed Volume 4 of this Naxos series in 34:4: “The romantic spirit prevails throughout these works; the concertos are outgoing, flashy works, intended for a less sophisticated audience and more public venue than Ries’s piano sonatas and chamber music. (The word “flashy” is not used pejoratively here—it describes music that aims to entertain the audience with its brilliance.)”

If I sound a bit more cynical than Susan, it’s with good reason. Concertos like this by the dozens were written by second-rate composers who happened to be first-rate pianists throughout the 19th century and into the first decade of the 20th. Just sample Hyperion’s “Romantic Piano Concerto” series to see what I mean. The works are all very appealing as you’re listening to them, but after you’ve heard four-score and seven of them, I’d be willing to wager that you wouldn’t be able to put the composer’s name to the concerto if your life depended on it without looking at the CD’s label or album cover.

This is Volume 5 in Naxos’s survey of Ries’s piano concertos, and as you can see from the opus numbers, Ries’s output was voluminous. This should, I believe, conclude the series. If you’re wondering what happened to the First Concerto, there isn’t one; or to be more accurate, there is, but it’s not for piano. The concerto numbered No. 1 is actually the Violin Concerto in E Minor, op. 24. So, Ries wrote only eight piano concertos, Nos. 2 through 9, and they span a period of 25 years, with the earliest, No. 2 (1808), and the latest, No. 9 (1833), both on this disc.

There are, however, six additional works for piano and orchestra—not counting a Concertino, WoO 88, composed in 1836, which is said to be lost—bringing the total to 14. With this release, Hinterhuber has now recorded all of the extant scores, and but for a couple of other recordings of the C#-Minor (No. 3) Concerto by Felicja Blumenthal and Maria Littauer, he appears to have the field pretty much to himself. I must admit to being a little surprised that in 59 volumes to date, running the gamut from Alkan to Zarzycki, Hyperion has managed to overlook Ries, especially since the “Romantic Piano Concerto” series has explored the concertos of his above-mentioned close contemporaries, Moscheles, Pixis, Kalkbrenner, and Thalberg. The collection has thus far steered clear of Hummel as well, but perhaps that’s because Hummel’s concertos have received more attention on disc. Ries’s concertos haven’t, until now.

While Ries’s concerted works for piano and orchestra are largely fluff, they are nonetheless enjoyable and can certainly be appreciated for their impressive keyboard gymnastics, if not for their trite tunes. Hinterhuber runs Ries’s technical obstacle course with ease, delivering these pieces with all the dash they deserve. And Uwe Grodd prods his New Zealanders to rise above Ries’s rather pedestrian orchestral tuttis and accompaniments. Obviously, this is a must-have for completists who have collected the first four volumes in this Ries survey. It’s also recommended to those who enjoy early romantic virtuoso piano works from the period and in the style of Hummel, Weber, and the above-named composers.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano no 2 in E flat major, Op. 42 by Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Christopher Hinterhuber (Piano)
Conductor:  Uwe Grodd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Introduction et Rondeau brillant, Op. 144 by Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Christopher Hinterhuber (Piano)
Conductor:  Uwe Grodd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Concerto for Piano no 9 in G minor, Op. 177 by Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Christopher Hinterhuber (Piano)
Conductor:  Uwe Grodd
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  6 Customer Reviews )
 Lesser known, but beautiful May 23, 2018 By gary  m. (milpitas, CA) See All My Reviews "This CD in a very rewarding experience...." Report Abuse
 Beautiful Music, Beautifully Played, Impeccably R May 4, 2013 By L. Majors (Bartlesville, OK) See All My Reviews "I was unfamiliar with Ries before buying this CD, but I became intrigued when I read that he studied with Beethoven. For Beethoven to have considered him worthy of his time and attention, to my mind, was a high recommendation of his musical ability, indeed. I am pleased to say that my intuition paid off, Ries, as demonstrated by this fine recording of his pisno concertos, is indeed, a wonderful composer. These concertos sparkle with creativity and verve. And while tipping his hat to his great teacher, they are in no way derivative of Beethoven's piano concertos in the least. Highly recommended." Report Abuse
 A Fitting Finale April 8, 2013 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "Naxos concludes their survey of Ferdinand Ries' works for piano and orchestra with this release. Ries was an interesting character. A talented pianist and composer, he moved to Vienna to study with Beethoven, and became his secretary. In time, Ries set out on his own to become a highly successful performer and composer. This installment presents Ries' first and last piano concertos. It also features one of the large-scale single-movement works he wrote to showcase his talents in concert. Piano Concerto No. 2 in E-flat, Op. 42 starts the program. Despite its number, this 1806 concerto was actually the first of the eight Ries composed. It has the bravera of Beethoven but tempered somewhat by simple triadic melodies that seem more akin to Mozart. This late Mozart/early Beethoven character is reinforced in the Larghetto and Rondo movements, which sound light, and lighthearted. The Introduction et Rondeau brilliant, Op. 144 is a big, sprawling work full of grand gestures. Finished in 1825, the music sounds more like Schubert than Beethoven. Especially in the slow and elegiac introduction, the piano part seems to presage to Chopin in its expressiveness and fluidity. Final work on the album is Ries' Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 177. Finished 24 years after his first concerto, Ries displays an expected growth in his style. Ries' melodies sound more like Brahms than Mozart. The burliness of Beethoven is still there in the solo passages, but Mozartean elan has been replaced by more sophisticated harmonies and increased drama. The orchestration has also developed, with instruments being exploited more for their colors than just providing accompaniment. Judging by the piano part, Ries must have been a ferocious player. Although there are some real technical challenges here, Hinterhuber makes them sound simple, and even fun to play. And that just adds to the listener's enjoyment. This release brings a satisfying close to this traversal of Ferdinand Ries' most important compositions." Report Abuse
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