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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Divertimenti per il Pariton a Tre"

Guido Balestracci, baryton; Alessandro Tampieri, viola; Bruno Cocset, cello

rec: Oct 2010, Centeilles, Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 315 (© 2010) (73'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & tracklist

Trio in D (H XI,42); Trio in G (H XI,59); Trio in a (H XI,66); Trio in G (H XI,70); Trio in b minor (H XI,96); Trio in C (H XI,101); Trio in D (H XI,113)

The baryton is almost exclusively associated with Joseph Haydn. It was a much older instrument, though. Its origins go back as far as the early 17th century. But in his liner-notes Jérôme Lejeune states that the descriptions of the instrument in its early stages widely differ and often have not that much in common with the baryton as we know it from Haydn's time. In the 18th century it was especially popular in southern Germany and Austria. Because Haydn's output for the baryton is so large, not that much is known about other composers' works for the instrument. What is known is that at least Johann Joseph Fux and Attilio Ariosti wrote arias with an obbligato part for the baryton.

Leopold Mozart gave this description in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756): "This instrument has, like the gamba, six or seven strings. The neck is very wide, with the back surface hollowed out and open, under which run nine or ten brass and steel strings. These are plucked with the thumb, so that in fact whilst the main melodic line is played with the bow on the gut strings strung on the front of the instrument, the thumb simultaneously plays the bass line by plucking the strings under the neck. It is for this reason that the pieces need to be specifically composed. It is, incidentally, one of the most graceful instruments." The German composer and author Friedrich August Weber (1753-1806) described the sound as a combination of viola da gamba and harp and wrote that it moved him to tears.

There is some difference of opinion about the abilities of Haydn's employer. Those are generally considered rather limited. But Jérôme Lejeune believes one shouldn't underestimate his skills. "Haydn does not hesitate to demand pizzicato playing of the sympathetic strings on a regular basis. The player is frequently required to play a melody line on the bowed strings and to accompany it with pizzicato notes; an excellent command of the instrument is clearly required".

Nikolaus continuously urged Haydn to compose music which he could play at his beloved instrument. The result is a huge corpus of more than 160 pieces for or with baryton. The largest part of this output comprises 126 trios for baryton, viola - or violin in a handful of trios - and cello. Almost all of them are in three movements: a slow movement, a fast movement and a menuet, mostly in that order. But Haydn would not be Haydn if he hadn't changed the order of movements now and then. Because of their character the trios rank among the genre of the divertimento. That was also their function: Prince Nikolaus played them for his own entertainment. That doesn't mean Haydn sticks to what one may expect from a divertimento. The slow movements are often quite expressive. And although the large majority of the trios are written in D, G or A, Haydn also has written some trios in other keys, even some in the minor, like the Trio in b minor (H XI,96). As a result it has a considerably darker colour than most trios and is the most 'serious' piece of this disc.

The artists have made a nice and imaginative choice from Haydn's large output. Fortunately they have largely avoided the most frequently recorded trios. Haydn's complete oeuvre with baryton has been recorded by the Esterházy Ensemble. As good as Haydn's music and these performances are, many will find this too much of a good thing. For them this disc offers an excellent alternative. The playing is technically immaculate, and the interpretation goes to the heart of Haydn's music. There is no lack of expression in the slow movements, whereas the fast movements are playful and explore Haydn's subtleties. Although the recording was made in a church, it has the right atmosphere. The balance within the ensemble is optimal.

In the English translation of the liner notes Jérôme Lejeune writes about the Trio No. 107 which is remarkably written for baryton solo. "We have of course not been able to resist the temptation to add it to our programme". Apparently the artists had second thoughts: the trio has not been included, and the whole passage from the liner-notes is absent in the original French version and in the German translation. Maybe on a later disc?

Let's enjoy what is on offer here. Haydn's trios are irresistable, and the artists have done everything to bring them to life.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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