Hyperion continues its gargantuan archaeological dig for obscure romantic piano concertos with Volume 75 dedicated to Beethoven’s pupil and assistant Ferdinand Ries. The ever-reliable Australian pianist Piers Lane is in wonderful form on this delightful disc, admirably supported by The Orchestra NOW, a training band of musicians from around the world under the steady baton of Leon Botstein.
A London music journal in the 1820s praised Ries’s playing as being often surprising and “distinguished from that of all others by romantic wildness”. Beethoven had been taught violin by Ries’s father Franz Anton and then took Ferdinand on as his pupil and assistant. He helped Beethoven stage his gigantic 1808 benefit concert which included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies and the Fourth Piano Concerto. We do hear Beethoven references in these works but Ries has his own voice, less symphonic and more taken with pianistic virtuosity. The orchestral writing is superb with lovely use of woodwinds and horns – especially in the Eighth Concerto, a joyful work with pastoral touches written to celebrate his return from London to his beloved Rhineland home.
The Ninth Concerto is darker in mood although still with plenty of brilliant solo passages and the Introduction and Polonaise, like the other works, owes as much to the young Chopin as to his old master. All in all these are late works which show the Rhinelander to have been significantly more than just a virtuoso performer. They could take their place on a concert program alongside works by Mozart or Beethoven. It is to be hoped that Lane will bring them to Australia – along with more Ries – on one of his regular visits here.
Beethoven reportedly remarked that Ries imitated him too much, but I don’t think the modern listener would agree when they hear this beautifully produced and enjoyable disc.