Picture credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Peers but not equals

Ferdinand Ries: Symphonies 1&2 (Ondine); Franz Clement: Solo violin works (Naxos)

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


Ries and Clement were the musicians closest to Beethoven. Ries, who knew Beethoven from Bonn, acted as his secretary before moving to London where he was active in the Philharmonic Society that commissioned Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Clement, for whom Beethoven composed his violin concerto, was displaced as concertmaster for the premiere of the ninth symphony. Although neither man achieved posterity, it is interesting to see how much of Beethoven rubbed off into their works.

In Ries’s case, an awful lot. The opening movement of his first symphony plays around with a theme from the violin concerto, while the second movement steals wantonly from the Eroica, of which Ries was the copyist. Ries’s thefts, though shameless, are never less than proficient.

His second symphony, composed in London in 1813, imitates Haydn, whom the English adored. But halfway into the second minute, Ries is back ransacking the Eroica with both hands like a kid let loose in a sweet shop. The Tapiola Sinfonietta, conductor Janne Nisonen, play with vim, vigour and a fleeting smile.

Clement’s caprices and variations sound quite effortful in the hands of Haolin Lin, who first came to attention as a Chinese national competition winner. His are largely first recordings, which relieves us of any need to compare. The music is dutiful, dull and disappointing. Clement had a party trick of playing the violin upside-down: that might have helped. Beethoven dismissed one of his sets as poor stuff… monotonous. I did, however, enjoy Clementi’s variations on a march from an opera by Salieri with an unmentionable racial title.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover