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Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) Piano Concerto No 8 and 9 Hyperion RPC

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« on: April 29, 2018, 04:38:09 am »

Another installment of the Hyperion RPC:
Digital booklet (PDF)
The Romantic Piano Concerto
Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838)
Piano Concertos Nos 8 & 9

Piers Lane (piano), The Orchestra Now, Leon Botstein (conductor)
‘Virtuosity is not an outgrowth but an indispensable element of music’, proclaimed Franz Liszt, with vested interest. By the time Liszt took Europe by storm in the 1830s, the cult of instrumental virtuosity was in full spate, fuelled by the demonically inspired (so it was thought) feats of Paganini, and a new breed of composer-pianists led by Hummel, the Irishman John Field, the Frenchman Frédéric Kalkbrenner and the Bohemian-born Ignaz Moscheles. To this glittering roster we can add the name of the Rhinelander Ferdinand Ries, ‘justly celebrated as one of the finest piano-performers of the present day’, as the London Harmonicon described him at the height of his career in the early 1820s—and the competition in London was intense. ‘His hand is powerful, and his execution is certain—often surprising. But his playing is distinguished from that of all others by its romantic wildness …’

‘Romantic wildness’ was also an oft-remarked feature of the playing of Ries’s most famous teacher, Ludwig van Beethoven. In his native Bonn Beethoven had been taught violin by Ries’s father, Franz Anton, a violinist in the Elector Maximilian’s orchestra. After studying violin and piano with his father, and a brief sojourn as a music copyist in Munich, the sixteen-year-old Ferdinand moved to Vienna in 1801 where, in a nice symmetry, he became Beethoven’s piano pupil. (The only pupils he formally acknowledged after 1800 were Ries and the Archduke Rudolph.) For composition lessons Beethoven sent the teenaged prodigy to his own former teacher, the venerable master of counterpoint Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. In payment for his lessons, Ries acted as Beethoven’s part-time copyist and secretary; and most of his (probably heightened) later reminiscences about the composer—not least the story of Beethoven furiously destroying the title page of the ‘Eroica’ after Napoleon had proclaimed himself Emperor—date from this period.

By his late teens Ries had evidently acquired a formidable technique. In August 1804 he made his debut as Beethoven’s pupil, playing his teacher’s C minor concerto (No 3) in Vienna’s Augarten. The story goes that Beethoven had advised him to omit a particularly tricky passage in one of Ries’s own cadenzas. The pupil ignored the master’s advice and brought off the passage triumphantly, to Beethoven’s delight. Yet while reviews of the concert were enthusiastic, it was several years before Ries’s career as a composer-virtuoso took off. In September 1805 Ries, as a citizen of Bonn, was called up for conscription into the French army which was then occupying the Rhineland. Summoned from Vienna to Koblenz, he was declared unfit for military service (childhood smallpox had left him blind in one eye), and returned to Bonn.

After a year in his native city, where he composed the first of his eight piano concertos and two sonatas dedicated to Beethoven, Ries tried his hand in Paris, then returned to Vienna for a year, helping Beethoven with the logistics of his gargantuan benefit concert in December 1808. In July 1809 he again departed for Bonn, this time to evade the threat of conscription into the Austrian military at a time of national crisis. Over the next few years he composed prolifically and established his reputation as a touring virtuoso in northern Europe, playing in Kassel, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm and St Petersburg. In 1812 Ries’s plans were yet again disrupted by Napoleon; and instead of further concerts in Russia, he turned west, travelling via Stockholm to London, where he arrived in April 1813. London would be his home for the next eleven years. Here he married Harriet Mangean (1796-1863), described as ‘an English lady of great merit and possessing many personal charms’, and became a favourite at the Philharmonic Concerts, where he performed many of his compositions for his own instrument. In another link with his past, one of the founders of the Philharmonic Concerts was Johann Peter Salomon, likewise a native of Bonn, who had once played alongside Ries’s father in the Elector’s orchestra, and later lured Haydn to London.

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