Tuesday 11 December 2012

Naxos complete their Ferdinand Ries piano concerto series with more magnificent playing from Christopher Hinterhuber

Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is probably better known for his association with Beethoven than as a composer. Yet Ries wrote seven symphonies, a violin concerto, eight piano concertos, seven other works for piano and orchestra, as well as oratorios, chamber and piano music.

Ries came from a distinguished family of musicians. His grandfather, Johann Ries (1723-1784), was Court trumpeter to the Elector of Cologne in Bonn and later violinist in the Capelle. His aunt, Anna Maria, was a singer who married Ferdinand Drewer, a violinist in the court band. His father, Franz Anton, was born in Bonn in 1755 and was a child prodigy, having been taught the violin by Johann Peter Salomon (who brought Haydn to London in the 1790s) and played in the court band from the age of only eleven. In 1779 he made his way to Vienna where Beethoven became a friend and pupil. Franz Anton gave great support to the Beethoven family during difficult times, especially after the death of Beethoven’s mother.

His son, Ferdinand Ries, was born in Bonn in November 1784 and was taught piano and violin by his father. He lost an eye in childhood due to smallpox. In 1801 he went to Munich to further his studies and, later that year, he travelled to Vienna with a letter from his father to Beethoven, who gave him much financial and practical support. Ries stayed in Vienna for three years, studying composition with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger.

After his return to Bonn he later travelled to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Paris, before returning to Vienna in 1808. His reputation as a pianist was growing and, after an abortive attempt to gain the position of Capellmeister to the King of Westphalia, Ries travelled to Cassel, where he played at the Court to much acclaim.

With still no offer of a post, Ries travelled again, this time to Hamburg, Copenhagen and Stockholm where he arrived in 1810. He eventually made his way to St Petersburg. After further travels as far as Riga and Kiev, he made his way to England where he found his father’s friend, Salomon, whose introductions helped him to quickly gain access to the musical life in London.

Ries remained in London until 1824. He had accumulated a substantial fortune, married and had made a great reputation. On his return to his homeland with his wife he purchased a property near his home town. In 1830 he moved to Frankfurt where he involved himself in the Lower Rhine festivals. He died on 13th January 1838 after a short illness.

Naxos Records www.naxos.com have just completed their series of five CDs covering the entire fourteen surviving works for piano and orchestra. Volume 5 again features Christopher Hinterhuber (piano) http://christopherhinterhuber.com and the conductor, Uwe Grodd this time conducting the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

With its extended opening for orchestra before the piano enters, Ries’ Piano Concerto in E flat Op.42 (1808) is in a much more Beethovenian style than some of the previous concertos I have heard in this series though still looking forward to Chopin and even Schumann to a degree. This allegro con brio is full of invention and wonderful pianistic effects, with an attractive cadenza.

The larghetto opens with a solo clarinet against pizzicato strings before opening out to the full orchestra with the entry of the piano bringing some delicate writing with lovely interplay with the orchestra.  A brief solo passage for piano leads directly to the rondo allegro where there is terrific freedom of invention with witty piano writing, full of joy with many playful flourishes and a characterful contribution from the horns. There is a wonderful central theme that gives contrast to the movement. Christopher Hinterhuber has all the technique, fluency and musicianship to make these works really come to life.

The Introduction et Rondeau brilliant Op.144 from 1825, written after his retirement from the London concert scene, opens with a dramatic, serious theme before the piano introduces a new idea in an altogether more relaxed manner. There are some brief dramatic outbursts but overall this is thoughtful music to which Hinterhuber brings much poetry. The rondeau introduces a livelier theme with a beautifully light touch from the pianist. This is a wonderfully inventive piece.

The Piano Concerto in G minor Op.177 (1832/3) is Ries’ last piano concerto. It opens with a weighty theme, beautifully orchestrated, before the piano enters. This concerto seems to have an altogether more serious feel with some terrific writing for the piano, brilliantly played by Hinterhuber. Oddly for such a late work, there are still hints of Beethoven in some of the scales and trills. There is a tautness and sense of dramatic purpose here, not to mention some pretty virtuosic playing.

The larghetto brings some lovely woodwind writing along with a tranquil piano part that often sounds improvised, with the piano writing somewhat anticipating Chopin. The movement rises to a couple of brief climaxes with some fine playing from Hinterhuber before a quiet ending.

A lively rondo allegretto follows with grand flourishes for piano against an orchestra that features more lovely woodwind writing. Hinterhuber plays all of this magnificently, superbly supported by Uwe Grodd and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.  

I have enjoyed this series of recordings immensely and this final volume is a worthy conclusion to the whole series. 


  1. Piano concerto number 1 is missing from the five Naxos disks. Why is this?

    1. There is no piano concerto No. 1. Ries numbered his nine published concertos in order of publication rather than by instrumentation. The first published concerto was Concerto No. 1 for Violin and Orchestra followed by Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra (Op. 42).

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