RIES Concert Overtures

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

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