Prince Nicholas Esterházy,
the employer of Joseph Haydn, was a
passionate music-lover and played several
instruments, among them the cello, the
viola da gamba and the baryton, which
was his favourite instrument.
Characteristic of the
baryton are the parallel six to seven
gut strings, which are bowed, and up
to twenty, though usually nine or ten
metal resonance strings running underneath
the fingerboard. The neck, open to the
rear, also allowed the strings to be
plucked. The tuning of the fretted strings
was similar to those of the viola da
gamba. The baryton was almost exclusively
played in Austria and South Germany
between the middle of the 17th and the
end of the 18th century.
It was mainly Haydn
who carried the burden of composing
new music for this instrument; the Prince's
demand for such music was inexhaustible.
But in Luigi Tomasini he found a colleague,
who could share the load. Tomasini,
born in Pesaro in Italy, was first violinist
in the chapel of Esterházy, when
Haydn was appointed assistant Kapellmeister
in 1761. Later on he became Konzertmeister,
a post he held until his death in 1808.
To Haydn he was more than a colleague.
They were close friends. Several times
Haydn made efforts to improve Tomasini's
financial situation and called him "my
brother" in his letters. On several
occasions Tomasini gave performances
of Haydn's string quartets. Haydn once
wrote that nobody played his quartets
as rewardingly as Tomasini.
Tomasini was also active
as a composer. Among his works are string
quartets and trios, a couple of violin
concertos and some symphonies. He also
wrote 24 divertimentos with baryton.
Whereas Haydn's trios are scored for
baryton, viola and cello, Tomasini preferred
the violin instead of the viola: two-thirds
are with violin.
The fact that these
trios belong to the genre of the divertimento
doesn't mean that they are all light-hearted.
Some movements show close affinity with
the Sturm-und-Drang style, for example
the Trio in e minor. Elsewhere we find
the influence of the 'Empfindsamkeit',
as in the Trio in G and in some adagios
of other trios. The most divertimento-like
are the Trios in C and in A, which contain
three fast movements.
As the baryton is hardly
ever recorded and even less frequently
played in public, this disc offers a
rare opportunity to hear the instrument.
It is also good to be introduced to
Tomasini as a composer, someone we only
knew from the history books as a brilliant
violinist and personal friend of Haydn.
In addition, the Esterházy Ensemble
gives excellent performances here, entertaining
where called for, and also exploring
the depths these trios contain. This
is a disc for adventurous music lovers
to whom I recommend it without reservation.
Johan van Veen