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Music For Prince Nikolaus Esterházy
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Barytontrio Nr.96 h-moll (Hob.XI/96) [15:18]
Barytontrio Nr.66 A-dur (Hob XI/66) [13:37]
Divertimento Nr.18 D-dur [11:29]
Anton NEUMANN (1740-1776)
Divertimento Nr.22 G-dur [15:14]
Alois Luigi TOMASINI (1741-1808)
Divertimento Nr.12 G-dur (Ko.24) [10:51]
The Polish Baryton Trio: Kazimierz Gruszczyński (baryton); Violetta Plużek (viola); Maria Sarap (cello)
Rec. Polish Radio Studio (S-2), July 2001. DDD
DUX 0337 [66:27]

I feel sorry for the poor baryton, the lesser known member of the viola da gamba family. Not only has it suffered very circumscribed – namely, aristocratic – attention since its invention in the early seventeenth century, but in this day and age, when we have the technological means to reintroduce it to society on a potentially international scale, it is a record like this one that stands for its mouthpiece. This recording is, sadly, a very poor rendition of some truly amazing music by Haydn and his contemporaries.

Haydn’s Baryton trios are considered, alongside the string quartets, to be his greatest innovations. They are delicately crafted out of three distinct and independent instrumental lines that weave a tight-knit harmony. Although the instruments are relatively close in range, the baryton produces upper harmonic overtones, pitched an octave higher, that compensate for the lack of treble.

In the 1760s and 1770s, Haydn composed in the region of 175 baryton works for his patron and fellow baryton enthusiast, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Haydn was careful to accommodate the prince’s amateur technique with easily playable compositions, so it is especially surprising that Gruszczyński plays with so little technical control. Other baryton compositions for the Prince that also feature on this CD came from Tomasini (leader of the Prince’s orchestra), Burgksteiner (violist in the Prince’s orchestra) and Neumann (not attached to the Esterházy court but whose collection of scores belonging to Prince Nikolaus I contains the Divertimenti for baryton, viola and cello).

I cannot fault the programme. The opening piece – a trio that dates from Haydn’s highly emotional ‘Storm and Stress’ period – is a thorough exploration of the different instruments, and offers a very rich palette in terms of dynamics and mood. This much I could not tell from the recording; it couldn’t be more bland or sloppy – and especially the faster passages. However I can recommend another that does the composition justice: that of the Esterházy Baryton Trio, a really polished ensemble whose attention to dynamic and articulation bring the music to life.

Among the remaining compositions there is the charming Divertimento by Burgksteiner. A pity the Presto finale, with all its cheeky dynamic contrasts, doesn’t come off. The grand Adagio opening from Neumann’s Divertimento is also sadly compromised by a very feeble, almost frightened performance. Moreover, in this same movement, the sudden and potentially magical shift into a minor passage [2:41] is completely ignored.

Haydn’s second offering, Trio no.66, is delightfully simple and positively affective. The opening has something of the ethereal spirit of Bach’s Air on a G String. The instruments in the uplifting Allegro di molto take their turn at standing alone in opposition to the other ensemble members. Similar atmospheric techniques in the final movement are lost to the numbing monotony and dreariness of the performance. Needless to say, Tomasini’s bubbly and grandiose composition sounds nothing more than a shy apology.

In a nutshell: not enough guts, not enough musicality. A lack of technique, perhaps? But DUX records needn’t despair – there is a market for this CD: as monochrome background music to a civilised summer garden party.

Aline Nassif


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