Beethoven, Ries: Cello Works

Juris Teichmanis cello, Hansjacob Staemmler fortepiano
67:22
Ars Produktion ARS 38 533
Ries: Sonata op. 20, Trois Airs Russes Variés, op. 72
Beethoven: Sonata op. 5/1

Some comparisons are fairer than others. The coupling of the name of Ferdinand Ries with that of Beethoven is justified on a number of counts: like Beethoven he was born in Bonn (in 1784, 14 years after Beethoven), like Beethoven Ries sought to further his career in Vienna, where their paths crossed. After his arrival in the Austrian capital in 1801 Beethoven behaved with considerable generosity toward him, not only giving the impecunious young man piano lessons but also even financial assistance, in return for which Ries acted as secretary and copyist to Beethoven.

There are links, too, between the two major works on this CD, Beethoven Cello Sonata in F, op. 5, no. 1 and Ries’ Cello Sonata in C, op. 20. Both were the work of young men of similar age, the Beethoven dating from 1798, while the Ries was composed during the composer’s sojourn in Paris in 1808. Without explaining why or how, the notes claim that Ries modelled his sonata on Beethoven’s, although it is difficult to see the connection. And it’s worth mentioning here that the notes are long on the kind of biographical and historical detail you find anywhere, but provide no description or analysis of the works included.

In any event, this is where any valid comparison between the two ends abruptly. Although Ries opens his first movement with strong, Beethovenian gestures, he seems more interested in the gentler arpeggiated passage that follows. The development is also much concerned with strong rhetoric, but to my ears to no great purpose, there being much empty passage work for the cello, whose part (termed as obbligato on the title page) seems less rewarding than that of the pianist. The brief Adagio that follows starts with a vigorous tramping motif that promises more than it delivers, the movement subsequently lapsing into a pleasant Romantic reverie. The final movement is a Polonaise in rondo form with an attractive main theme, but in truth the movement amounts to little more than salon music. That applies even more in the case of the Trois Aires Russes Variés, op. 72 of 1818, a mélange woven together to create a colourful if inconsequential mosaic of lyrical and vigorous themes. Beethoven’s F-major Sonata, cuts a totally different figure, of course, a work bursting with a young man’s passion and burgeoning genius. As I said at the outset, some comparisons are fairer than others.

And that might equally well be said for the performances. Juris Teichmanis and Hansjacob Staemmler are both fine musicians who bring a vital, energetic approach to the music, though Teichmanis is often more effective in cantabile passages than more dynamic music, where the nervous intensity of his wiry tone is not always pretty. I suspect – despite the use of period instruments – he is probably happier in later music. Likewise Staemmler, whose playing of more lyrical passages has an agreeable fluency, but who has a tendency to be heavy handed in assertive writing. Anyone seeking the Beethoven will want to look elsewhere; this might serve if you have an urge to investigate Ries.

Brian Robins