Ries: Double Horn Concerto, Violin Concerto, Overtures / Michael Alexander Willens, Et Al

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RIES Concerto for Two Horns. Violin Concerto. Die Räuberbraut: Overture. Liska, oder Die Hexe von Gyllensteen: Overture Michael Alexander Willens, cond; Teunis van der Zwart (hn); Erwin Wieringa (hn); Anton Steck (vn); Die Kölner Akademie (period instruments) cpo 777 353 (65:30)

Here’s another helping of Ries’s pieces from cpo. I expect that Ries’s ghost is hovering benignly over cpo’s corporate offices in recognition of what the label has done for the composer’s music over the past several years. As I’ve said before in these pages, Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838) is most famous for being Beethoven’s pupil, factotum, and friend. Some of Ries’s music sounds a lot like Beethoven’s, and a lithograph of Ries, printed in cpo’s booklet, suggests that they even looked similar. The two concertos on this CD were composed around 1811, after his professional relationship (but not his friendship) with Beethoven had come to an end. The two overtures are much later works. His first opera, Die Räuberbraut , was composed in 1827, and was premiered the following year in Frankfurt am Main. As often happens, the Overture achieved some success as an independent work. His second opera, Liska, oder Die Hexe von Gyllensteen , was commissioned by the Royal Adelphi Theatre in London, where it was premiered in 1831.

Ries’s mind, at least as far as composition was concerned, was not a brilliantly original one, but he was a fine craftsman whose music offers many pleasures even today. The Double Horn Concerto is conventionally outdoorsy, but Ries allows the two soloists not just to coexist in brotherly harmony, but also to strike sparks off one another. In fact, this Concerto was composed for two horn-playing brothers: Johann Gottfried and Johann Michael Schuncke, who played in the Kassel court orchestra. The use of natural horns on this recording is authentic, and allows for the production of some delightfully buzzy timbres. As for the Violin Concerto, its first movement is perhaps too conventional—no echoes of Beethoven here!—but the second movement sings sweetly and strikingly, and the third is a bouncy Rondeau. Chronologically, this Concerto is closer to Beethoven’s, but sometimes it sounds more like Mendelssohn’s E-Minor Concerto, which wasn’t premiered until 1845!

The Overture to Die Räuberbraut is in a heroic mode— Fidelio No. 2 , perhaps? I can understand why audiences of the time found it appealing. The second Overture (I want to rename it “The Witches of (Jake) Gyllenhaal”) also has the flavor of minor Schubert and (surprisingly) Rossini. It’s fun stuff.

Steck plays a Gagliano violin from 1701 on this recording, and I expect the wiry and sometimes shrill and unsteady tone is associated with the instrument, and not with any deficiencies in Steck’s technique. The two horn players have fun with their concerto, and revel in its opportunities for showmanship. The Cologne Academy plays excitingly and with idiomatic bite. This group is recording the complete Mozart piano concertos (with Ronald Brautigam) for BIS, and I look forward to hearing the results. Bert Hagels’s booklet notes are scholarly in their thoroughness. Cpo always does well in this area.

This disc is one of the plums in cpo’s Ries series thus far. If you don’t know the composer but are curious, or have an affinity for music from the late Classical period edging into Romanticism, I recommend giving this CD a try.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777353-2

  • UPC: 761203735327

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Ferdinand Ries

  • Conductor: Michael Alexander Willens

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Cologne Academy

  • Performer: Anton Steck, Erwin Wieringa, Teunis Ven Der Zwart