To some, Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) is best known as a minor planet spinning around the sun that was Beethoven. He studied with the older composer from 1801-1805 and we have Ries to thank for the tale of Beethoven defacing the name of Napoleon on the title page of the Eroica Symphony.
Ries was occasionally brutal in his memories, presenting his teacher as a clumsy curmudgeon, unable to pick up anything without dropping it and living in quarters in which everything was "overturned, dirtied and destroyed". Then there was the incident of a plate being hurled at a waiter who had brought the wrong dish.
For over a century, Ries the composer slipped into obscurity, his music dismissed by one critic as showing skilful industry rather than originality and practically forgotten. Not now, thanks to Naxos Records and Auckland conductor Uwe Grodd who, with pianist Christopher Hinterhuber and various orchestras, has recorded the composer's complete works for piano and orchestra.
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra takes on the fifth and final volume, coupling the first and last of the concertos with a charming Introduction et Rondeau Brillant.
Allan Badley's detailed and elegantly turned booklet essay points out many subtleties that might elude the unwary ear, but one cannot miss the composer's bold shifts of mood and style and fondness for piquant woodwind writing. All of which are done full justice in this recording made in the Michael Fowler Centre, with producer Tim Handley at the helm.
The starkly beautiful clarinet solo that introduces the first concerto's Larghetto is followed by the expressive keyboard rovings of the magisterial Hinterhuber, only slightly let down by irritating flashes of banality in the following Rondo.
Ries' final concerto shows the influence of later Beethoven in the opening explosion of orchestral ideas and gestures before the virtuoso Hinterhuber makes his entrance.
Perhaps the Larghetto con moto looks to Chopin in what is a highly decorated aria without words, but the staunch triple time prevents a complete surrender to the new romantic spirit.
Ferdinand Ries: Piano Concertos Volume 5 (Naxos)
Verdict: Final collection of Ries piano concertos vindicates the faith and fortitude of all involved.