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Ferdinand Ries's father was a teacher of Beethoven. Ferdinand then studied piano with Beethoven, but would not take the young Ries as a composition student because he sounded too much like his master.
The two trios on the cd are from very different times in his career. While listening to the first one I kept thinking that this music sounded what Mozart may have written has he lived into the 19th century. Very delicate melodies, great interplay among the trio members and a minimum of sturm und drang.
The latter piece sounds a bit more post Beethoven, perhaps anticipating Mendelssohn.
For anyone interested in piano trios this is a wonderful record, one that will have its place right next to Beethoven's piano trios, and it will certainly get a lot of play in my home.
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Echoes of the GreatsSept. 16 2015
- Published on Amazon.com
Born in Bonn to a musical family, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1848) arrived in Vienna penniless with a letter of introduction to Beethoven, who had been taught by Ries’ father. Working as a secretary and copyist, Ries became a student and eventually one of Beethoven’s closest friends.
Both of these piano trios follow the traditional 3 movement structure, fast slow fast, although the early Trio in E Flat, Op.2 employs a slight variation. Haydn often began his symphonies with a leisurely intro, but seldom if ever did he start one of his 45 piano trios that way. Ries does, opening his compound first movement with a somber ’Adagio con moto’ in minor before giving way to the following ‘Allegro’. As a student of all 3 instruments, he gives the string voices more responsibility and uses them with more assurance than did Haydn, particularly the cello.
As the jaunty ‘Allegro’ develops, the piano assumes the lead role while the string duo interjects their own musical ideas. Drifting back into minor and a more contemplative tone, the movement features several false endings, possibly as a homage to Haydn, and covers a wide range of moods as it assumes a symphonic sweep foreshadowing the coming Romantic sensibility.
Tinged with the melancholy of minor, the dramatic ‘Andante’ contains a strummed final chord in the primary theme, revealing a decidedly Spanish flavor. After a lovely interplay between the two strings, the keyboard reasserts control as the movement shifts in and out of major, delving into introspective meditation before a striking conclusion with a pianissimo pizzicato exclamation point. Initiated with the ebb and flow of darting finger runs, a light hearted ‘Rondeau Allegro’ closes the trio. Amid playful call and answer exchanges, the deft fleetness of the keyboard recalls the glittering artistry of Mozart.
In stark juxtaposition to the lightness of the earlier work, the Op.143 trio begins in the dark key of C Minor, and was likely penned between 1814 and 1824 while Ries was living in London. Showing the bold confidence of a mature composer, in the opening ‘Allegro con brio’, he employs abrupt dynamic changes, turn-on-a-dime rhythmic shifts and sudden mood alterations. In addition, he gives the strings more responsibility, using them to present and develop musical ideas as the piano exhibits the fiery passion so characteristic of Beethoven.
The lyric sweetness of the following ‘Adagio con expressione’ is light years from the stormy outer movements. Despite an ominous undertone that never quite dissipates, a smooth serenity permeates the section, carried chiefly by the ever flowing keyboard. Drifting slowly to an apparent tranquil close, a rising chromatic scale heralds something very different and leads directly into the explosive beginning of the concluding ‘Prestissimo’. Reminiscent of a macabre dance, the catchy initial melody careens into wild carnival ride through a kaleidoscopic array of unexpected modulations, sudden transitions, and unlikely harmonic shifts. It’s a terrific ending.
The recording by CPO is superb, intimate and detailed, allowing the three members of the Mendelssohn Trio of Berlin free reign to present these works in the best possible light. Stephan Picard on violin, Ramon Jaffe on cello and Andreas Frolich on the keyboards are to be congratulated for bringing what is apparently the only recording of Ries' trios to life. Although echoes of the great Classical era composers can be heard, here Ries finds his own voice.