musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Baryton Divertimenti Volume 1"

The Esterházy Machine

rec: Oct 15 - 17, 2004, College Park, MD, University of Maryland (Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Dekelboum Concert Hall) - FoM 36-811 (© 2010) (66'53")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Trio in A (H XI,35); Trio in D (H XI,97); Trio in a minor (H XI,87); Trio in G (H XI,124); Trio in C (H XI,101)

Kenneth Slowik, barytone; Steven Dann, viola; Myron Lutzke, cello

This recording dates from 2004 and was only released six years later. One wonders why it has been on the shelf for so many years. The reason could be that at the time of the recording no record company saw a market for this repertoire. It is true that for many years very little attention was paid to the Baryton trios by Haydn. The commemoration of his death in 2009 seems to have changed that. Brilliant Classics released a complete recording of all the music with baryton which Haydn has written. From that year up until now various discs with music for baryton have appeared. If you search "baryton" on this site you will find several reviews of such discs.

Haydn's large production in this department is completely due to his employer's fascination for the instrument. Although his playing capabilities were limited his demand for new music was insatiable. Haydn was one of the musicians at his court who was expected to provide him with compositions. In order to serve him to the best of his abilities Haydn learned to play the baryton himself. During his time in Esterháza he produced more than 170 pieces with a part for the baryton. Among them are 123 trios for baryton, viola and cello. Obviously the barytone plays the leading role in these trios but that doesn't mean that the other two instruments are reduced to an accompanying role. In his liner-notes Kenneth Slowik rightly points out that "[the] ranges of the three instruments overlap considerably, making it possible for each to play, in rapid alternation, the melody, the accompaniment, or the bass line". It leads to a very particular sound, with the various lines closely interwoven.

These trios belong to the same genre as the many divertimenti of the time. But Haydn's diverting music is always more than just easy listening stuff. He has the unique ability to mix entertainment, wit and depth in one single piece. The latter quality is mainly represented by the slow movements which often take more than half of the time of the whole piece. On this disc that is the case with the opening moderato from the Trio in G and the adagio from the Trio in a minor. Lasting more than 8 minutes the adagio cantabile from the Trio in D is also by far the longest of the seven movements. This is a composition of a special character, since it was written for the birthday of his employer. Here we also find the combination of wit and depth, the former being represented by the polonaise, the latter by the adagio and the closing fugue. One doesn't find often a fugue in diverting music, but Haydn used it more than once. The Trio in C ends with a fuga a 3 soggetti in contrapunto doppio. One can't help feeling that this is an expression of Haydn's sense of humour as well.

All the qualities of Haydn's Baryton trios are conveyed by these three artists. Their playing is very relaxed and smooth, but in no way superficial. The depth of the slow movements is fully explored, and so is the humour and wit. The recording has a great amount of intimacy which suits this repertoire perfectly. The programme is nicely put together, combining two of the best-known trios (97, 101) with the lesser-known Trios 35 and 124. If you don't know Haydn's Baryton trios yet, this disc offers an excellent opportunity to get acquainted with them. As this disc is presented as Volume 1 I look forward to the next volumes.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Smithsonian Chamber Music Society

CD Reviews