Ferdinand Ries Violin Sonatas – Elegant and refined

Ferdinand Ries was many things to Beethoven; student, assistant, copyist, colleague, champion. He was a virtuoso pianist went on to have a successful career both as a performer and as a composer.

Reis’ 18 sonatas for violin and piano were mostly composed between 1807-1809, while he was living in Paris. And perhaps for that reason, the three sonatas in this recording seem to have more in common with Mozart than Beethoven.

The sonatas are all models of classical restraint, with a refined elegance that eschews showiness. I didn’t hear any of the bravura demands that Beethoven puts on his performers, but that didn’t make these works any less enjoyable. I suspect Ries was writing for his French audience, and that audience preferred restraint.

The Sonata in F, Op. 8 No. 1 has a Mozartean charm to it. Simple elements are artfully arranged to keep the listener charmed throughout the work. By contrast, Ries’ Sonata in C minor, Op. 8 No. 2 is much more forceful and dramatic. In it, I could hear the influence of Beethoven, although Ries never quite approaches the fury of his teacher.

The liner notes try to connect the Grande Sonata in F minor, Op. 19 to Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata, but I think that does a disservice to the former. Both are in three movements, and both were written around the same time, but Ries’ work lacks the inner fire of Beethoven’s sonata.

Taken on its own terms, though, I found the Grande Sonata quite interesting. Its themes are more fully developed than those of the Op. 8 sonatas, and the music sound more substantial, with more inherent emotional weight.

Ries may not be on par with Beethoven, but his music is well-constructed and inventive. I found it both pleasing and enjoyable to listen to. If you lean more towards Mozart than Beethoven, you may find it so as well.

Ferdinand Ries: Three Sonatas for Violin and Piano
Eric Grossman, violin; Susan Kagan, piano
Naxos 8.573193

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