Monday, May 6, 2013

Ferdinand Ries: Piano Concertos, Vol. 5 - A fitting finale

Ferdinand Ries: Piano Concertos Vol. 5
Christopher Hinterhuber, piano
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Uwe Grodd, conductor

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 bravura 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 The burliness of Beethoven is still there in the solo passages, but Mozartean elan has been replaced by more sophisticated harmonies and increased drama.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.

(I've also reviewed Volume 4 in this series)

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