Ferdinand Ries: Der Sieg des Glaubens, oratorio


Eminent violinist, renowned conductor, esteemed composer and son of the young Beethoven's teacher (himself later a student of Beethoven), Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) enjoyed a remarkable career that spanned the European continent. Up until recently, Ries held only a footnote in music history for a collection of memoirs he published about Beethoven. Thanks to several enterprising record labels, most notably cpo and Naxos, Ries has lately gained recognition for his own fine compositions, as well as a growing representation in the catalog of recordings. This new cpo release adds to Ries' tally the world premiere recording of the oratorio Der Sieg Des Glaubens, Op. 157 (The Triumph of Faith), performed by Das Kleine Konzert under the direction of Hermann Max.

Like Beethoven, symphonies, chamber music and piano works form the core of Ries' output. The opportunity to compose an oratorio presented itself late in his career and the premiere performance was an overwhelming success. Ries was thrilled, calling his new oratorio "the greatest and most highly effective work that I have written." Music of Ries' contemporaries, Schumann, Mendelssohn and especially Beethoven came to mind listening to this vigorous and gripping music. Above all, it is Ries' rousing music for chorus, and how it is punctuated by the instruments in his orchestra, that impressed me the most.

In Ries' time, valveless or "natural" horns and trumpets were employed largely as percussive instruments (and for fanfare melodies), adding punch to the contour of the music much as timpani, bass drum or cymbals might. The horn section of Das Kleine Konzert is especially effective in this regard, with a commanding "bite" to their sound. Listen to the two tracks I've provided. The first is a brief lyrical number for women's chorus and the second, a bracing one for male chorus, driven forward and powerfully punctuated by various sections of the orchestra, particularly the brass.

This high-octane music seldom lets up, and I've returned to the recording many times. A fine quartet of soloists, with no weak link among the lot, rounds out the superb performances by orchestra and chorus for an exhilarating listening experience.