musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Trios pour cors de basset" (Trios for basset-horns)

Le Trio de Bassetto

rec: March 17 - 19, 2010, Sarrebourg (Moselle), Centre international des Chemins du Baroque
K617 - K617222 (© 2010) (69'59")

Trio in F (after Trio in G, H XI,65); Trio in B flat (after Trio in D, H XI,69); Trio in g minor (after Trio in a minor, H XI,87); Trio in g minor (after Trio in b minor, H XI,96); Trio in B flat (after Trio in D, H XI,97); Trio in G (H XI,123): adagio

Jean-Claude Veilhan, Éric Lorho, Jean-Louis Gauch, basset-horn, glass harmonica

The basset-horn is a member of the clarinet family. Its main feature is the extension of its compass downwards to written c, a major third below the lowest note of the conventional clarinet. The basset-horn in F, the type used in this recording, was probably developed in the 1760s. At the end of the 18th century a basset-horn in G was developed. At the beginning of the 19th century the popularity of the basset-horn waned, even though several composers - like Berlioz and Brahms - appreciated the instrument for the beauty of its sound.

During its heydays it was particularly Mozart who frequently used it, especially in pieces of a masonic nature. He also wrote some instrumental pieces for three basset-horns. Otherwise the repertoire seems scarce. Haydn never composed anything for basset-horns, and even the clarinet never had a prominent place in his oeuvre, unlike in Mozart's. When he was engaged as Vice-Kapellmeister by Prince Paul Anton Esterházy in 1761 in Eisenstadt, nine other musicians were hired as well, and none of them was a clarinettist. So the main reason for the absence of parts for clarinet or basset-horn in many of Haydn's compositions is probably the lack of skilled players.

Therefore the music on this disc was arranged from the large corpus of trios for baryton, viola and cello which Haydn composed for his employer since 1762, Prince Nicolaus I, nicknamed 'the Magnificent'. He was an avid player of the baryton and had an insatiable appetite for new pieces to play. As his skills were limited Haydn did have much margin for experiments. But as always Haydn made the best of it, and his baryton trios have much which appeals to players and audiences alike.

In his programme notes Jean-Claude Veilhan points out that arranging music for other scorings was common practice. Haydn himself arranged some of his music for baryton for other instruments, including transverse flute and oboe. "Transposition for three basset-horns seems to us particularly appropriate, first of all because of the textures (the three registers of the basset-horn correspond to those of the original instruments), and also on account of the very nature of the basset-horn as the baritone of the clarinet family. The only significant modification in our arrangement lies in the change of tonality, since the basset-horn sounds in F and not in C like stringed instruments. There remained the question of the pizzicatos on the sympathetic strings. Given their 'crystalline' sonority, we opted to play them on musical glasses, here struck and not stroked in order to suggest the pizzicato punctuations of the baryton."

The musical glasses or glass harmonica as they are also called, are played more traditionally in one movement from the trio No 123. This instrument came into use in the early 18th century and became quite fashionable in the second half of the century, but it was also controversial: it was assumed to have an "evil power" and in some German cities it was banned. Several composers wrote music for it, like Mozart, but again not Haydn. It works quite well in this movement from one of Haydn's baryton trios.

The performances on basset-horns work just as well. Of course, with a different instrumentation the character of these works changes, but that is also the case in Haydn's own arrangements. And his music is just as entertaining as in its original scoring. The Trio in g minor (H XI,96) is one example of Haydn's skills in writing music to amuse audiences. But even in this kind of diverting pieces he can be quite serious as well, as the Trio in g minor (H XI,87) proves. The performances are excellent, and the players have captured the spirit of these trios very well.

In short, this is great stuff, both the music and the interpretations. It should appeal to Haydn lovers as well as aficionados of the basset-horn.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

CD Reviews