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You might have arrived at the symphonies of Ferdinand Ries via his enjoyable piano concertos (as I did). The symphonies included here are pleasant, lightweight and undemanding. In that sense they are like those of Louis Spohr, available on the same label:
Spohr:Complete Symphonies [NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Howard Griffiths] [Cpo: 555105-2
Conducting, playing, recording and packaging are all high quality, so give these pleasant works a try if you are looking for some new symphonies to explore.
Ferdinand Ries was mentioned in an article on Beethoven in the BBC Music magazine and as ever adventurous I bought this box and I would urge anyone to get out of the rut and buy this, and you might get to listen to music again. Also try Georges Onslow.
I heard part of one of these symphonies on Radio 3, and searched out a few examples, and decided to buy this set...if you like Beethoven,(and who doesnt) you will like these.Ries was close friends with Beethoven,and often commented on Beethovens works,and was also taught by the master..I find these works fit in to the symphonic repertoire between Beethoven,and Schumann.This set is well recorded,and I feel a kind of extension of Beethoven.Ries was outstanding in his own right, a pity more of his music isn't recorded...I got this set for just over £20...8 symphonies on 4 cds,the symphonies all around the 25.30 minute playing time each..a composer often overlooked.A good alternative to Beethoven,much to be enjoyed..
To the best of my knowledge, this is the only complete set of the eight fine symphonies of Ferdinand Ries currently available. CPO has somewhat of a cottage industry producing symphony cycles of secondary and tertiary composers with varying degrees of success, but on the whole the project has been more good than bad. It also nice to see these works presented en bulk, rather than having to piece them together from couplings.
Here we have the complete symphonies of one of Beethoven's pupils and the evidence of the student's reverence for his teacher is evident throughout the cycle, but no where is it more felt than in the Fifth Symphony, which is dominated by a three-note triplet figure a la Beethoven's Fifth. It is a lovely, if somewhat unfocused work, which is fascinating to hear juxtaposed to Beethoven's symphony of the same number. Listening to Ries's Fifth, one is immediately reminded why Beethoven was such a towering figure, not because Ries's effort is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but because Beethoven's effort was so magnificent.
This is not to say that Ries's works are entirely derivative. Listen to the fun interplay between major and minor that pervades the Seventh Symphony. Or the chromatic opening to the Second Symphony. But on the whole, his output is somewhat uneven, a tad unfocused, and suffers from a lack of thematic inspiration.
Now to the performances. I am pleased, but by no means thrilled, with Howard Griffiths conducting. The Zurcher Kammerorchester is, as the name implies, a small ensemble, but there is no reason why Griffith cannot achieve more energy, especially in larger tutti passages. I am convinced more incisive playing and vigor would make these symphonies more convincing. Like with Beethoven, it is the sudden shifts in mood, dramatic dynamic drop-offs, and general brio that make these symphonies interesting. I wished, for example, the dramatic opening to the Fifth had more violence, or the march-finale to the Sixth had more tongue-in-cheek charm. Still, the playing is top-notch, and these performances are quite good, certainly proficient enough to give a picture of the sound world of Ferdinand Ries. Those that enjoy this release may also enjoy the delightful Symphony of Jan Vaclav Hugo Vorisek, a work that has a bit more bite and a stronger command of sonata structure than the works presented in this four-disc volume.
When I first heard some movements of Ries's symphonies on Pandora, I knew that I had to have the recordings of it for my classical collection. The recording quality on these Cd's is excellent. Why aren't more orchestras making recordings of Ries? Ries does sound a lot like Beethoven at times, but he adds his own style enough so that the music is his own. My favorite symphonies are #1, #4, and #6. The only reason I gave this set 4 stars is that I think it might sound better if played by a larger orchestra with a beefier sound. Zurich Chamber Orchestra did well in these recordings for its size, but I think that they put a little too much emphasis on the crescendos by playing them a bit too loud and too sharp. Maybe a larger orchestra could give Ries a bigger sound without having to over do the crescendos.
A ppleasant surprise. As Beethoven's pupil, you would expect some similarities in style, but there is a difference, & for me it raised the question ; If there wasn't a Beethoven, how would we rate this otherwise very original music? Quite highly I suspect.