Complete Works for Piano and Orchestra Volume 3
„Abschieds-Concert von England”
Introduction et Variations Brillantes, Op. 170
Grand Variations on „Rule Britannia“, Op. 166
Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK
9-10 January 2007
Christopher Hinterhuber, Piano
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Uwe Grodd, Conductor
Naxos 5.70440 Entertaining visions of England from a pupil and friend of Beethoven
Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838), pupil, friend and biographer of Beethoven, made London his home from 1813 to 1824. The Piano Concerto No 7 was composed in 1823, the year before he returned to the Rhineland (its subtitle Farewell Concerto from England was added by the publisher); the Variations on Rule, Britannia were composed in Hastings in 1817…while the tune for the Variations, Op 170, though not identified as such in the score, turns out to be “Soldier, soldier will you marry me / With your musket, fife and drum”. In brief, a trio of England-related works that might have been specially written to fit neatly onto one CD.
Are they worth hearing? Not if you require spiritual nourishment or intellectual stimulation, but if you enjoy brilliant display pieces whose untroubled function is to dazzle and entertain, then Ries is your man. Hummel is the model for the piano-writing (with some fascinating passages prescient of Chopin and Mendelssohn), though the extended first movement of the Concerto, with its lengthy and quirky cadenza, is at times in danger of attempting a faux Beethovenian profundity. As on Volumes 1 and 2, the excellent Christopher Hinterhuber has his work cut out and delivers the goods in sparkling, empathetic fashion…he now has the benefit of the RLPO. The role allotted to them is, to be frank, not demanding. The booklet (Allan Bradley, also responsible for the performing editions) is first-rate, as is the recorded sound.
Jeremy Nicholas – Gramophone, September 2009
Composer Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838) wrote fourteen works for piano and orchestra, and I had remained unfamiliar with all of them until I auditioned this recording. An associate of Beethoven, Ries enjoyed a concert platform career well into the 1830s. Having composed nine piano concertos, Ries inevitably suffers comparison with his more esteemed contemporary, whose influence can be felt in the flashy, martial, dotted rhythms that permeate his first offering here, the glittery 1823 Farewell to Britannia Concerto in A Major. But the harmonic functions in Ries differ decidedly in Ries, since he would rather rhapsodize than conform to any strictures about sonata-form. Cadenzas come and go, seemingly ad libitum; and the general, bombastic nature of the writing, its flamboyant fioritura, rather invites comparison with Weber’s Konzertstuck in F Minor more than with Beethoven, Hummel, Mendelssohn, or Chopin, though Ries’s rhetorical strategies borrow from them all.
The second movement, Larghetto—which opens by almost quoting verbatim Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto—becomes “bardic,” strumming the theme over soft, string chords. A march suddenly emerges, but it, too, seems derivative of Mozart’s Requiem. Once or twice, I hear other allusions to Mozart, especially the big Concerto in C, K. 503. Then, Mendelssohn kicks in, particularly the Capriccio Brillante, Op. 22. When I become impatient with Ries and the constantly intertwining runs and roulades, I glibly note that the piece seems 10% inspiration and 90% “scintillation.” The use of repeated notes in the first movement sounds like a stuttering sequence from Chopin or a Liszt Rhapsody, often in parody. A contemporary critic of 1824 wrote of Ries having composed for “the Aeolian harp.” I find the strings of that harp rather acrobatically arranged, which aligns me with Clara Schumann’s assessment of Camille Saint-Saens. The last movement, a flurried, galloping Allegro whose main, tripping tunes “borrow” from the last movements of Mozart’s G Minor Symphony and Chopin‘s E Minor Concerto, cascades along with predictable, if quirkily eclectic, panache.
The second work to mark Ries’s retirement from the London stage is his 1817 Grand Variations on ‘Rule Britannia.’ An E-flat, pomposo introduction leads to a fragment—seven notes in the horns—of the jingoistic tune, a cell that assume various characters and guises, after, of course, the keyboard has had its verbose statement—the verses of the text—if you will. Each of the succeeding tuttis—acting as a responsive chorus—is numbered in the Ries score. The model for all this I suspect is Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia, Op. 80, herein diluted with ornamental peppers and paprika of a distinctly Gordian nature. Four variations behave rather placidly, given Ries’s extroverted nature; then, he begins to flex his musical muscles, changing the duple meter to a swaggering 6/8 and the tonality to A-flat. Some counterpoint ensues, rather a “learned” treatment from Ries, who thenceforth shows us he can conform—albeit playfully—to classical procedures, if he wishes. Harmonically, Ries does catch my ear with the shift for his coda; if only he would ease up on the roulades, which by now, I find a peacock’s affectation.
Well, the sun never sets over…Ries. His Introduction et Variations Brillantes, oh so French, sets as a long introduction and four variants the tune, “Soldier, soldier, will you marry me?” Its tripartite structure, with a long central Larghetto in A-flat Major and B Major, might just be distant antecedent for Franck’s Symphonic Variations. The dancing main air proves captivating, in a music-hall or shanty fashion, to the generous ear. The writing for flute, horns, and strings proves quite idiomatic, so let us not disparage Ries’ gifts for orchestration, keyboard facility, or stylistic variety. To wit, I grant Ries full credit for his musical mimicry of others’ styles, and concede that, were his talents in the visual arts, he might have enjoyed unqualified success as an art forger.
Gary Lemco – Audiophile Audition, July 2009
Perhaps the mother of Ries’s invention was the necessity of mass appeal. Writing to accommodate the tastes of the less musically sophisticated middle-class audiences that were increasingly finding the means to attend public concerts required a different approach. I hate the term “dumbing-down,” but we see it even in Beethoven, whose solo piano sonatas and string quartets, which were aimed at a smaller, more musically cultivated and elite audience, were more experimental and listener challenging than his concertos and symphonies, although here, too, he pushed the envelope. Likewise, Ries’s concerted works are immediately engaging, melodically and harmonically fluent, and filled with wonderfully imaginative and memorable turns of phrase.
The grand orchestral tuttis clearly take Beethoven as their model, but the piano-writing is something else. In the A-Minor Concerto there is an exquisite prefiguring of Chopin and Mendelssohn, with its arabesques and filigree anchoring and sustaining the pivotal notes that constitute the melodic arc. This is gorgeous stuff that you will never tire of listening to. All three works on this disc date from Ries’s London period, the concerto—the seventh in order of publication and obvious from its title—was written in London in 1823 and marks the end of the composer’s period in England. The Introduction and Variations brillantes bears a higher opus number than the concerto only because it wasn’t published until later. This and the Grand Variations on “Rule Britannia” show Ries to be a thorough master of the variations style and technique.
At present, there is little to no competition on CD in this repertoire, so Christopher Hinterhuber pretty much has the field to himself—all the more reason then to rejoice at his lively and beautifully turned performances. Uwe Grodd and the Royal Liverpool band accompany and complement him admirably. If you add to the equation over an hour’s worth of really enjoyable music, excellent playing, an outstanding recording, and Naxos’s budget price, you have a gold star winner.
Jerry Dubins – Fanfare, July 2009
While actual numbers are arbitrary at best—given the wide disconnect between known dates of composition and publication—the present notes seem fairly certain that the work in A minor heard here is Ries’s Seventh Concerto and dates from 1823, the year before he left London. It bears the title Abschieds-Concert von England (Farewell to England) and clearly shows that Ries at 39 was at the height of his creative powers. It’s clear from the grandeur and brilliance of this noble gesture that Ries wanted to give his adoring public something to remember him by.
Unlike Ries’s other piano concertos, this one opens with a slow introduction, soon cast aside in favor of a confident forward stride centering around a sturdy dotted rhythm (first heard in the horns) that at once commands full attention. This rugged, yet remarkably resilient and expansive opening demands much from the orchestra as well as the soloist and sets up a satisfying give-and-take that unfolds in truly magisterial fashion, capped by a massive cadenza that surely must have held the audience transfixed. But the true centerpiece of the concerto is the Larghetto. The notes aptly tell us it “has a Beethovenian nobility about it”. The driving energy of the rondo finale is draining for listener and players alike; a bit more impish humor would not be amiss.
If the more ephemeral, yet no less extroverted display common to the two sets of variations was intended to entertain Ries’s London audiences, they’re impeccably crafted and highly colored all the same; and they certainly don’t deserve to be dismissed by Colonial pianists merely because they make use of British themes. The Variations on the brightly tripping tune ‘Soldier, Soldier, Will you Marry me?’—unlike the finale of the concerto—has humor to spare even at a bracing clip; though as you might imagine the Liverpool players respond even more enthusiastically to Ries’s inventive and fanciful reimagining of ‘Rule Britannia’, with the full support of the yeoman horns.
Sound is spacious and detailed, and as we reach the halfway point in Christopher Hinterhuber’s survey of the Ries piano concertos we may look ahead with renewed anticipation. You can find scores and parts at www.artaria.com.
Steven J Haller – American Record Guide, July 2009
Beethoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries didn’t quite manage nine symphonies—he wrote eight—but he did outstrip his friend and mentor when it came to piano concertos (nine in all). Colin Clarke welcomed the first volume in Naxos’s ongoing series and Tim Perry wrote glowingly of the second; not surprisingly, I had high hopes for the third.
Yes, such expectations do have a nasty habit of ending in disappointment, but when the signs are as auspicious as this…The Royal Liverpool band certainly needs no introduction; nor does conductor Uwe Grodd, who made such a good impression as the flautist and leader in Vanhal’s Flute Quartets (Naxos 8.570234). The Austrian pianist Christopher Hinterhuber also looks promising; he’s certainly had some illustrious teachers, Lazar Berman and Murray Perahia among them.
Ries’s seventh concerto, written in London in 1823, is supposed to mark his farewell to the city, although the autograph score bears no such title. In any event it’s an effervescent work whose grand opening might tempt one to comparisons with Beethoven and Mozart. It’s clearly of that ilk but the music has an identity all of its own. This is writing of astonishing fluency and drive, qualities that Hinterhuber demonstrates from the outset. Arguably the orchestra sounds a little woolly here—it firms up nicely later on—but the piano remains warm and clear throughout.
But that’s not all; Hinterhuber finds plenty of sparkle and wit as well, while always maintaining a sense of classical proportion and scale. And just listen to that lovely passage that appears briefly at 12:47, before the more ebullient mood returns. The orchestra respond to the music’s gentle rhythms with playing of great poise, but it’s in the Larghetto that they and the soloist establish a remarkable rapport. Those drowsy string figures at the start are beautifully articulated, as is Hinterhuber’s gentle reply, and one may be forgiven for thinking of the Andante to Mozart’s K.467 at times. This is lovely, twilight music, a perfect prelude to the sun-drenched Allegro that follows.
One senses in this concerto an air of certainty and general well-being that spills over into the ‘Rule Britannia’ variations. Written in 1817 the piece has a wonderful lyricism that really plays to Hinterhuber’s interpretive strengths; he shades and points the familiar phrases with great care, reinventing ‘that tune’ with consummate skill. And what should one make of that passage at 9:42, which sounds remarkably like a snatch of ‘ragged time’? All-in-all a refreshing piece, winningly played.
However, it’s the Introduction et Variations Brillantes that really astonishes and delights. Based on the English folk-song ‘Soldier, soldier will you marry me?’ this work has orchestral weight and drama aplenty; more than that it’s an excellent vehicle for Hinterhuber, whose aerated playing and fine rhythmic control remind me so much of that other player/performer, Gottschalk. Not as complex a piece as the earlier variations, perhaps, but delightful nonetheless.
An admirable collection, made all the more desirable by the pianism of Christopher Hinterhuber. It’s been a while since I’ve heard playing of such consistent quality, of such lightness and character. That said, the real heroes are Ries himself—this music demands to be more widely heard—and Naxos, whose ongoing cycles and series have restored so many neglected composers to the catalogue.
Captivating music, eloquently played and warmly recorded. Need I say more?
Dan Morgan – MusicWeb International, June 2009
Naxos has continued its survey of Beethoven protégé Ferdinand Ries’s excellent music. The latest release features the Piano Concerto Farewell to England (Op. 132), which is a wonderful romp. It is accompanied by some ingenious fun in the Grand Variations on “Rule Britannia” and another work.
Robert R. Reilly – InsideCatholic.com, May 2009
The concert begins with his seventh concerto (A minor, 1823) written as a farewell to England, and accordingly given the title „Abschieds-Concert von England.“ In the standard three movements, there are moments when the influence of Ferdinand’s friend and mentor Beethoven are evident, but for the most part there’s an ease and lightness of touch more typical of Ries’ contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837). Some passages even anticipate the piano concertos that would soon come from Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) and Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849).
In the standard three movements, the first is as long as the last two combined, and begins in furrowed brow Beethoven fashion. But the mood brightens as the piano enters, tossing off a delightful melody embellished with bravura displays. The writing is in the best tradition of romantic piano concertos, and includes a terrific cadenza that must have wowed London audiences. The movement ends in jubilation with a restatement of the opening piano theme.
Except for a couple of forte outbursts from the orchestra, there’s a serenity and elegance about the larghetto that seem to be a Ries trademark. It leaves the listener relaxed and predisposed to the supercharged rondo finale, which contains a tiny motif [track-3, beginning at 00:55] somewhat like the opening theme from the last movement of Mozart’s fortieth symphony (1788). The concerto closes with a petite cadenza after which the orchestra chases the piano out the back door.
The disc concludes with two sets of variations based on English melodies. The first of these, Grand Variations on „Rule Britannia“ (1817), is a very clever piece of work that’s basically a theme and variations laid out in sonata form. It begins with a weighty introduction in which there are fragmented references to the main subject (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) colorfully adorned by the piano. The soloist then states the big tune in all its glory, which Ries develops in a series of scintillating variations, covering an amazing variety of moods. The work ends in a spectacular recapitulative coda, which must be as enjoyable to play as it is to hear.
Introduction et Variations Brillantes takes as its subject the melody for the folk song „Soldier, soldier will you marry me?“ that’s reputedly of English origin, and became very popular in Colonial America. While not as structurally sophisticated as what we just heard, this piece is nonetheless a real crowd-pleaser. Here the composer uses some catchy tonal and rhythmic devices to come up with an engaging set of variations where the soloist is given plenty of opportunity to dazzle the audience. Is that a fleeting reference to „Rule Britannia“ we hear just before the thrilling finale [track-5, beginning at 09:08]?
Through their recordings for Naxos, award-winning pianist Christopher Hinterhuber and conductor Uwe Grodd are fast establishing themselves as two of today’s most up-and-coming musicians. As with their previous volumes of Ries concertos, the present release will win many friends for this unjustly neglected music. The performances by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are every bit as good as those with the New Zealand and Gavle Symphony Orchestras on the first CDs.
The recordings are pellucid and well focused across a convincing soundstage, with an ideal balance between the soloist and orchestra.
Bob McQuiston – Classical Lost and Found, May 2009
No critic in his/her right mind would assert that Ferdinand Ries’ piano concertos are in the same aesthetic class as Beethoven’s works in the same form. Like the concertos of his early Romantic contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ries’ works are far more about showing off the soloist and entertaining the audience than are Beethoven’s more nobly conceived and executed masterpieces. Still, one would have to have a critical heart of stone not to be beguiled by Ries’ thoroughly attractive concertos. As played here by pianist Christopher Hinterhuber with Uwe Grodd leading the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, three of Ries’ works for piano and orchestra receive splendidly performed and wholly persuasive readings. Though the imposing three-movement concerto called “Farewell to England” is the most substantial work here and the Introduction et Variations Brillantes is the most overtly virtuosic, perhaps the best work to start with is the Grand Variations on “Rule Britannia”. In a work with a theme familiar to almost every listener, Hinterhuber’s crisp articulation and burley technique are shown to excellent advantage, and the result is the most immediately attractive piece on the disc. Recorded in clean, slightly too close sound, this disc will likely tickle the musical funny bone of listeners already familiar with Beethoven’s concertos.
James Leonard – Allmusic.com, May 2009
Here we have three works in the grand 19th century tradition, unashamedly audience-pleasers, yet without pushing the boundaries of good taste. The concerto is a grandiose,large-scale (35 minutes!) work abounding in memorable melodies, and with a Beethoven-like robust orchestration. The two sets of variations are tuneful and exciting, with mercifully minimum instances of that vulgar Britannic theme…Pianist Hinterhuber and the Liverpool orchestra under the direction of Uwe Grodd are truly spectacular.
Giv Cornfield – The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, April 2009
Though born in Germany, Ferdinand Reis, became England’s finest pianist in the first half of the 19th century, his fame linked with a sizeable catalogue of compositions. So illustrious, in fact, that at the age of 40 he had made sufficient money to retire, returning with his English wife to his native Rhineland. He marked the event with his Seventh Piano Concerto, to which he gave the subtitle ‘Farewell to England’, though the happiness of the finale may not have been entirely appropriate. Composed when still at the peak of his career, the outer movements sparkle with crystalline brilliance, with the central allegro enjoying peaceful beauty. It makes for a readily attractive score, its attraction here enhanced by a scintillating account from the young Austrian-born Christopher Hinterhuber, his ability to make runs sparkle like finely cut diamonds bringing vitality to the work’s abundant filigree bringing vitality. He, and conductor Uwe Grodd seize the mood of the period and exactly strike the appropriate tempos, adding a degree of pensiveness at the close of the allegro. Six years earlier, in 1817, Ries created the ingenious Grand Variations on ‘Rule Britannia’, the familiar chorus not heard in full until the score has run its course for a few minutes. It’s a fun piece offering the soloist a display of virtuosity that Liszt would have envied. Rather less showy, but equally demanding on the soloist, the Introduction et Variations Brillantes, is a simple theme and four variations, based on the song Soldier, soldier will you marry me. Throughout the disc the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic show they are presently in exceedingly fine form. An immaculately balanced recording most highly recommended.
David Denton – David’s Review Corner, March 2009