Review By Colin Clarke ,Fanfare,September 2011
Susan Kagan’s survey of Ferdinand Ries piano music continues in this, the fifth volume of her series. The A-Major Sonata dates from Ries’s final period (it was composed around 1823), and one can perhaps be forgiven for spotting the many parallels with late Beethoven, not least a surprising sparseness of texture, unashamed use of registral extremes, and the emancipation of the trill from a merely decorative function. Over and above all this, there is a feeling of serenity that also mirrors late Beethoven. The Scherzo (A Minor) is interesting. Cast in rondo form, it exudes resolve while encompassing moments of respite. Kagan is superb at delineating each and every mood. She also exhibits superb legato at speed for the moto perpetuo theme of the finale, while articulating
The A♭-Sonata, op. 176, is Ries’s final essay in this genre (Rome, 1832; his penultimate sonata had also shared this key). After the facility of op. 114’s finale, op. 176’s first movement ruminates on a varity of textures and fragments. Although the mood is optimistic, it is nevertheless exploratory. There is a beautiful civility to the dialogues between voices in the first movement; this element of dialogue is enhanced and expanded in the beautiful Larghetto quasi andante (perfectly paced here by Kagan). The cantabile here is a continual sense of delight, and the richness of Kagan’s tone is expertly retained by Naxos’s engineers (the recording itself is made in the Beethoven-Saal, Hanover). After this, Kagan captures the sweet innocence of the theme of the Ländler third movement perfectly, and contrasts this with the shifting rhythms of the mysterious Trio. What is consistently interesting about this music is how Ries might begin a movement with a gesture or a theme of charm, and the myriad ways he goes on to explore that music’s potentialities. At times quirky, sometimes witty, sometimes tragic, often unpredictable, he is rarely less than fascinating, and often much more.
Kagan sees the B-Minor Sonata as “the starting point for the 14 sonatas of Ries’s oeuvre.” It dates from either 1801 or 1805. It is not a slight work, as it lasts some 22 minutes and begins with an intimate eight-minute slow movement marked Largo molto et appassionato that is followed by a seven-minute Adagio. The first movement reaches its nadir, its darkest point, around two minutes before its end. Kagan gives the silences of the central Adagio full weight. The music speaks eloquently through them. Ries’s textures are surprisingly, daringly bleak at times. Even the finale brings little relief (Allegro agitato), and it ends enigmatically, with the musical equivalent of a raised eyebrow This is a remarkable work that fully deserves to sit with the two later works on the disc.
I really cannot think of anything negative to say about this most recen