Piano Concertos Nos 8 & 9; Introduction and Polonaise
Piers Lane (piano); The Orchestra Now/Leon Botstein
Hyperion CDA 68217 73:23 mins
Ferdinand Ries is a familiar name to Beethoven scholars as the co-author of one of the earliest biographies of the great composer. He was Beethoven’s piano pupil for a number of years, and as a pianist and composer himself he enjoyed his greatest successes in the decade or so he spent in London, from 1813 onwards. His eventual return to his native Germany was celebrated in his Piano Concerto No. 8, published under the title of Greetings to the Rhine. Its main point of interest is its slow movement – a serene piece of Romantic ardour, played with admirable poetic warmth by Piers Lane on this new recording. The opening movement’s second subject, swinging as it does from minor to major, is attractive too; and the finale begins in striking fashion in the ‘wrong’ key, before Ries settles for a disappointingly run-of-the-mill salon style.
The Piano Concerto No. 9 begins mysteriously, again approaching the main key obliquely, and Ries’s ear for lively interchange between soloist and orchestra serves him well. Here, as at the start of the Introduction and Polonaise Op. 174, his horn writing is reminiscent of Carl Maria von Weber’s sylvan use of the instrument. But in the polonaise itself, as all too often in the two concertos, Ries’s weakness for bravura display is ultimately self-defeating. Piers Lane manages the seemingly endless cascades of notes with commendable elegance, while the orchestral contribution under Leon Botstein is efficient if a touch routine. Richard Wigmore’s booklet notes are a mine of useful information.