Ries: Concert Overtures / Griffiths, WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln

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This disc makes the perfect introduction to a composer who has more to offer than the fact that he was Beethoven's pal.

This is a lovely program of exciting, colorful music. Ferdinand Ries may not have been a great composer in large forms, such as symphonies and concertos, but these single-movement pieces give him the opportunity to use his imagination, and he takes full advantage. The Ouverture bardique, for example, asks for six harps (though it sounds more like two here, since there are only two individual parts), and employs a Welsh folk theme. Both The Bride of Messina and Don Carlos (plays by Schiller) are suitably dramatic, and full of fire. Ries loads his Victory March with brass and percussion, but the music's high kick is buoyant rather than pompous. The dramatic overture "L'Apparition" was Ries' final orchestral work, and it seems to foretell the Mendelssohn of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Howard Griffiths and the Cologne radio orchestra play the music with plenty of spirit. The solo woodwinds, which Ries employs with particular gusto, have lots of character. Timpani use hard sticks, and the strings offer a lean sound that mellows expressively in lyrical passages. The style, with biting, edgy brass, is obviously "period performance"-influenced, but not absurdly so. In short, the performances are stylish and sound idiomatic. As usual with German radio engineering, the sonics are very good, with excellent balances between orchestral sections. This disc makes the perfect introduction to a composer who has more to offer than the fact that he was Beethoven's pal.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

The composer Ries, born in Bonn, Germany, will not be known to many nowadays, yet he had been London-based, had an English wife and wrote a number of overtures for the Philharmonic Society to perform. The concert 'ouvertures', as such, had been invented by Romberg, Spohr and Schneider. Previously, the regular concert hall practice of starting an evening with a single movement of a symphony was felt too severe an introduction for the audiences. Consequently, lighter pieces were introduced with stronger melodic line and easier on the ear to endear the audience and encourage their focus.

Such ouvertures were not written on the frothy styles of Zampa, Poet and Peasant or Barber of Seville where fanfare and catchy repetitious melodic phrases became the norm. Those were to come later. The ouvertures here are more solid and owe more to Beethoven ( Egmont) or Weber ( Der Freischütz) in weight and style. This is not surprising for Ries had been a pupil of Beethoven.

I found the pieces soft-toned in colour yet engaging to the ear. Only once did I sit up when I heard off-beat, knocking, percussive effects: I wonder what the audiences expecting a certain legato flow thought of this acoustic intrusion? Ries's Ouverture bardique is particularly British by its inclusion of the well-known Welsh folk song, 'All through the night'. By the time Ries premièred this ouverture, versions of the folk song had been published and even used by Gay in The Beggar's Opera.

Cologne's WDR Symphony Orchestra gives a strong performance and are well coordinated under Howard Griffiths’ direction. Although English there is no record of his home town, only his RCM association. He has gained significant experience on the Continent, especially in Switzerland with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra where he has been Principal Conductor for ten years. He is clearly interested in reviving lost pieces and in this he is well-partnered with CPO who should be congratulated for their fresh approach to the repertoire they cover. The pieces are recorded in a good acoustic with well-balanced dynamics.

The well-written notes by Bert Hagels cover the Ouvertures in detail yet overlooks detail about this interesting composer. The notes are provided in German, English and French.

-- Raymond J Walker, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777609-2

  • UPC: 761203760923

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Ferdinand Ries

  • Conductor: Howard Griffiths

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln