Piano Concertos Opp. 23 &151
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|1. Allegro Con Moto|
|2. Larghetto Con Moto|
|3. Rondo: Allegro Molto|
|4. Allegro Con Spirito|
|5. Larghetto Quasi Andante|
|6. Rondo: Alegro Vivace|
The eight piano concertos of Beethoven' friend and pupil Ferdinand Ries stand alongside those of Hummel as the most important works of their kind from the early 19th Century. Intensely lyrical and yet displaying at times a rugged Beethovenian power, Ries'
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The other surprise is the young, otherwise-unknown-to-me Viennese pianist Christopher Hinterhuber. He plays with the kind of dash and bravura we hear from a Stephen Hough. I certainly will be looking out for more of this young man's recordings. He's ably supported by Uwe Grodd--no surprise there since Grodd has shown himself on other Naxos discs to be an excellent conductor of works from the Classical period. This is a little later than his usual fare, including symphonies of Dittersdorf and Vanhal, though he does have a superb recording of Hummel choral works to his credit; I highly recommend that as well.
The New Zealand Symphony is a very competent body of musicians apparently and play with a robust tone in the more Beethovenian bits. The recording places them a little too much in the background, or maybe it captures Hinterhuber with such powerful, front-and-center clarity that the orchestra only seems a bit distant. In any event, it's a decent recording overall.
If you know and like Ries's symphonies or the piano concertos of Hummel, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised as well by this disc.
The earlier Concerto in C Major, Op. 123 was written in 1806. It has more of the Hummelesque than the later concerto and although it is expertly done there is a fair amount of note-spinning and occasionally less than expert filling-in of accompanimental voices. Still, it has exciting and memorable outer movements notable for their bustling energy. The Larghetto is my favorite movement of all on this CD, largely because it reminds me a good deal of the middle movement of Mozart's D Minor Concerto, K. 488. Its main melody is classically lovely; we haven't yet come to the florid Bellini-like melody of the later concerto.
Hinterhuber is a marvelous technician in these difficult concertos and what's more he plays with musicianly proportion and phrasing. He is given excellent support by the fine New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under conductor Uwe Grodd. Sound is crystal clear, warm and life-like.
There have been some other recordings of music by Ries that have appeared in the last few years, including a complete survey of his valuable symphonies on cpo and a disc of chamber music on Naxos.
I was duly rewarded after being favourably predisposed to his sonatas. The A flat concerto finds him in wonderful bloom, with a kind of spring-like efferverscence possibly infected by Field and which must have charmed Chopin as well. While his early sonatas display a certain homage to his master Beethoven, the A flat concerto composed in 1826, a year before Beethoven's death, is imbued with all the elements that the Viennese public must have already been accustomed to after being exposed to Hummel's groundbreaking romantic forays. Kalkbrenner, one of the foremost students of Hummel had already made his name; Ries while being the exact contemporary of Kalkbrenner, was by no means the more "advant-garde" of the two, even though his earlier sonatas speak of a language unknown to the musical public accustomed to the classicism of Mozart and Haydn when they were first published. Ries retained a sense of classicism just like Hummel, perhaps less classically poised, and providing a more direct link to Chopin and Schumman than Beethoven.
The A flat concerto opens slow but assuredly and expansively by the strings, as if one is totally immersed in the wonders of the Viennese woods in Spring. The winds and brass join and back the theme in regal force and the creative modulations and interplay of instruments provides an unconventional cadence for the piano's entry, very much similar to Ferdinand Hiller's third concerto. The development takes its cue from Hummel and Mozart. The ethereal second movement invokes the world of Field and is a direct anticipation of Chopin. The rambunctious third movement gets better with more hearings. There is little doubt that Hummel's last concerto in the same key composed three years later would have taken a cue from the work of his younger colleague.
The much earlier work, the C major concerto with a misleadingly late opus number is perhaps a tad too long, ambitious as it sounds, it seems to straddle between an attempt to move away from the sound world of Beethoven but remaining entrenched in it nevertheless.
The album alone is worth keeping and relistening for the masterly A flat concerto, which definitely deserves to be performed more regularly in the concerto repertoire.