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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): Trios with keyboard

[I] "Trios for Piano, Flute and Violoncello"
Richard Fuller, fortepiano; Annie Laflamme, transverse flute; Dorothea Schönwiese-Guschlbauer, cello

rec: Oct 23 - 26, 2009, Kartause Mauerbach (A)
Coviello - COV 201011 (© 2010) (58'38")

[II] "The Heart of Invention - Piano Trios"
Trio Goya

rec: Dec 7 - 10, 2008, Box, Wiltshire, Real World Studios
Chandos - CHAN 0771 (© 2010) (64'33")

[I] Trio in G (H XV,15); Trio in D (H XV,16); Trio in F (H XV,17)
[II] Trio in D (H XV,24); Trio in f sharp minor (H XV,26); Trio in C (H XV,27); Trio in E (H XV,28)

[II] Maggie Cole, fortepiano; Kati Debretzeni, violin; Sebastian Comberti, cello

In Haydn's time music making was one of the most popular pursuits of the middle class. Their members were usually amateurs, and large amounts of compositions were written to meet their demands. The growing market of good but technically not too demanding music gave composers wide opportunities to increase their income. In the last quarter of the century Haydn was Europe's most fashionable composer. He also took the opportunity to compose music for good amateurs. Among his oeuvre in this department are his trios for keyboard, violin and cello. Although Haydn is one of the most frequently played masters of the classical era his keyboard trios are still not really well-known and not that often recorded and played in concerts.

Three of his trios have a different scoring in that the part of the melody instrument is for the transverse flute, although the violin is given as an alternative. The flute was one of the most fashionable instruments among amateurs, and from that perspective it is rather strange that Haydn has written so little for the flute. The trios which are recorded by Richard Fuller, Annie Laflamme and Dorothea Schönwiese-Guschlbauer were the result of a commission of the English publisher John Bland who in November 1789 went to Esterháza at the request of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon to ask Haydn to undertake a concert tour to London. The request to write something for the flute wasn't surprising as the flute was particularly popular in England. The publication of these trios, not only by Bland but also by Artaria in Vienna, was the beginning of a lucrative period in Haydn's career thanks to the regular printing of music suitable for amateurs. That came in quite handy as in 1790 his employer, Nicolaus Esterházy, died and his successor. Prince Anton, dissolved the court chapel.

The three trios may be written for amateurs, in particular the trios 16 and 15 - probably composed in that order - are of a considerable technical level. And although Haydn himself characterised them as "not (...) anything at all remarkable, but (...) a trifling resource in case of very great ennui", they are certainly not without depth. That is the case, for instance, in the opening allegro of the Trio in D with its sudden pauses, or the andante of the Trio in G which contains some quite dramatic episodes. The features of the two main instruments are well explored, whereas the cello mainly enforces the bass part of the keyboard. The most diverting piece - in the historical meaning of the word - is the Trio in F, with its two movements, the last of which is a menuet - a standing part of almost any piece of musical entertainment.

The very fact that Haydn has written so little for the flute could be the reason that they are more often recorded than Haydn's other keyboard trios. Apart from that this is just fine music, and one can leave it to Haydn to write music which is entertaining and compelling at the same time. And that is certainly a feature of these trios. Their character is fully explored by the three artists who deliver performances full of character and expression. The ensemble is immaculate, and the features of the single parts is clearly exposed. Richard Fuller plays a copy of a fortepiano by Johann Andreas Stein from 1788 which is exactly the right instrument for this repertoire.

I can think of only two reservations: the andante più tosto allegretto could have been a bit faster, and in some passages the cello is a little more prominent than its role requires. But these are real trifles - in contrast to Haydn's trios - which haven't spoilt my appreciation of this recording in any way.

The trios which the Trio Goya has chosen are from a later date, and were written between 1794 and 1797. These four sonatas - as they wete officially called - are different in character and technical requirements. The disc opens with the Trio in C (H XV,27) and the Trio in E (H XV,28). They are from a set of three which were the last Haydn composed, between 1795 and 1797. It seems he began composing them during his second stay in London, but they were dedicated to the German keyboard player Therese Jansen, who in 1795 married Gaetano Bartolozzi. Haydn was one of the witnesses at the ceremony. Therese Jansen was a highly skilled player and that is reflected by the keyboard parts of these three trios. The keyboard is at the centre, and it is not a coincidence that Haydn referred to these trios as keyboard sonatas. At the same time the cello is specifically mentioned, so its part isn't quite an ad libitum part anymore, even though it mostly follows the bass line of the keyboard. The whole texture of these trios show this is not music for amateurs, like earlier trios. They are of the same standard as the string quartets.

The Trio in f sharp minor (H XV,26) and the Trio in D (H XV,24) were written during Haydn's stay in London in 1794/95. They were dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, the widow of the composer Johann Samuel Schroeter who in 1782 had been appointed music master to Queen Charlotte as successor of Johann Christian Bach. Rebecca was a skilled keyboard player but probably less so than Therese Jansen as the keyboard parts of these two trios are less demanding. This results in these trios being more close to the entertaining kind of chamber music which was so popular in the last quarter of the 18th century.

The differences between these two pairs of trios don't change the fact that in all four there are many things which catch the ear. Haydn shows in these compositions again that he is a master in the exploration of the character of the various instruments and in creating great contrasts. These are perfectly exploited by the members of the Trio Goya. Maggie Cole gives a brilliant account of the keyboard parts, and Kati Debretzeni and Sebastian Comberti are her congenial partners who clearly show their presence. Notable is the wide dynamic range of these performances, and their great rhythmic drive. These are in fact quite exciting performances, and there is nothing to criticise as far as the interpretations are concerned.

The one issue which needs some attention is the choice of the keyboard. Maggie Cole plays a copy of a Walter fortepiano of 1795, which has been built by Paul McNulty. I am a bit puzzled by the sound of this instrument. Maybe it is just my imagination, but I feel that the sound of this instrument is somewhat different from what I know from other recordings on a Walter piano. In my ears the sound is more brilliant and less intimate, and I miss some warmth and depth. I am not quite sure what kind of instrument would be the best choice. The two sonatas which are dedicated to Therese Jansen should probably be played on a Viennese action fortepiano as she was performing on the continent where instruments with English action were not known yet. Obviously the trios which are dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter require an instrument with English action.

In my ears the instrument used here is a bit of a compromise between Viennese and English action, and I am not very happy with that. It hasn't the bright and strong sound of real English pianos but is also less speech-like as Viennese action fortepianos. I am not quite sure what to make of this. Even so I recommend this disc because the music is great and the interpreters really explore its qualities to the full.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Richard Fuller
Annie Laflamme
Trio Goya

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