Ferdinand Ries – Cello Sonatas in the Rough

Ferdinand Ries was an accomplished pianist and composer who came to Vienna to study with Beethoven. The two became quite close (in addition to being his student, Ries also served as Beethoven’s copyist and personal assistant).

And one can hear that closeness in most of Ries’ compositions. The statement of the themes, the organization and working out of those themes, even the character of the pieces all echo Beethoven in some fashion — even in his cello sonatas.

The first two sonatas were composed in 1807, just two years after Ries left Vienna. They bear the strongest resemblance to Beethoven’s style. That’s not to say Ries was derivative. The sonatas are well-constructed works, taking their opening themes to their logical conclusions in imaginative ways. All three sonatas bear the title “Grande Sonata for the piano-forte with violoncello obbligato,” which suggests the cello plays a subservient role. In reality, all three sonatas evenly balance both instruments, making them truly collaborative works.

The Op. 125 sonata was composed in 1823 and bears only a trace of Beethoven. Ries has moved forward to the early romantic aesthetic. The best way I can describe the work is that it’s Schubertian in character, with the melodies falling just a little short of Schubert’s best.

One caveat about this recording — cellist Gaetano Nasillo and pianist Alessandro Commellato perform with instruments of the period, which gives these works a somewhat raw sound. The 1825 Joseph Boehm piano-forte sounds especially harsh.

In the final movement of the Op. 20 sonata I heard some clinking that was definitely distracting. Had something shaken loose and fallen on the strings, or was the mechanism really that noisy? The extreme upper register of the instrument also seemed to be slightly out of tune.

The cello also had, to my ears, a slightly pinched tone to it. Some of these issues are inherent in the instruments, of course. After the first sonata, I got used to the instruments and could listen past them to hear the music itself. If you want to experience these works as contemporary audiences did, then this release should be of interest. If authentic performance practice isn’t your thing, then it’s probably best to pass on this one.

Ferdnand Ries: Cello Sonatas
Grande Sonate Op. 20 in C major; Grande Sonata Op. 21 in A major;  Grande Sonate Op. 125 in G minor
Gaetano Naillo, cello
Alessandro Commellato, fortepiano
Brilliant Classics

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