Treasure trove! Half
of Haydn’s output for keyboard trio,
well played, well recorded and offered
at a bargain price. The other half is,
one assumes, to follow. Having already
given us Christine Schornsheim’s highly
enjoyable complete recording of the
keyboard sonatas, admirers of Haydn
have good reason to be grateful to Capriccio.
Formed in 1992, the
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt has already developed
a considerable reputation, in their
native Austria and beyond. They will
be familiar to some from their ongoing
recording of Haydn’s Scottish Songs
with Lorna Anderson and Jamie MacDougall
on Brilliant Classics.
Many of Haydn’s keyboard
trios are difficult to date very precisely.
Even so, it is clear that they fall
into three distinct groups. The earliest
were written between the mid 1750s and
1761 when Haydn ceased to be kapellmeister
for Count Morzin and moved to Eisenstadt:
I have followed most catalogues in dating
these as (?1760) in listing the contents
of these CDs. A second group were written
in the 1780s and a third in the 1790s.
In a number of cases, the dates given
above represent the dates by which we
know a given trio to have been in existence,
rather than the precise dates of composition.
There are four of the
early trios in the present collection.
In each case there is some slight uncertainty
as to Haydn’s authorship of the piece.
Hob. XV:38 was recognised as genuine
by Haydn some forty years later in 1803;
he didn’t, apparently, recognise Hob.
XV:41 as his work, though an early copy
survives in the hand of one of Haydn’s
regular copyists. Hob. XV:40 is surely
his – it sounds unmistakably like him
and there are several seemingly reliable
early copies. Hob. XV:C1 was again not
remembered by the elderly Haydn but
there are several usually reliable manuscript
sources for it. There are, of course,
strong arguments for playing these early
keyboard trios on the harpsichord –
as in the recording on period instruments
by L’Entretien des Muses on Calliope
– but when played with the understanding
and sense of scale displayed by the
Eisenstadts, they can be made to work
perfectly well on modern instruments.
The violin is given a good deal of prominence
in most of these early trios, and Verena
Stourzh plays gracefully and, where
necessary, quite forcefully. Hob. XV:41
is an intriguing four-movement work,
in which the third-movement adagio is
distinguished by a strikingly fluid
and decorated melody for the piano.
Though undoubtedly minor pieces, all
of these trios have something to offer
the hearer, and are historically fascinating,
case-studies in Haydn’s movement away
from Baroque conventions (still evident
in the continuo role given to the cello,
and to the keyboard in places).
The 1780 trios are
here represented by six works: Hob:
XV 5, 6, 9, 10, 11 and 13. In this second
group of trios, the keyboard soloist
takes more and more of the limelight
and the violinist joins the cellist
in sometimes having to play a decidedly
secondary role. Haydn’s musical imagination
now seems fully involved with the piano
trio and without exception there is
original and beautiful music to be found
in them. Hob. XV: 5 begins with a rhapsodic
yet dignified adagio, in which
the violin is an important voice and
which is remarkably free in form; it
ends with an attractive ¾ allegro.
Hob. XV:6 is in two-movements, marked
vivace and tempo di menuetto.
The Eisenstadts bring delightful exuberance
to the first movement and Verena Stourzh
impresses in the second movement. Here,
as elsewhere, Harald Kosik plays with
exemplary clarity and Hannes Gradwohl
is both solid and flexible. Hob. XV:9
and 10 are both two-movement works;
XV:9 gives the cello more chance for
lyrical expressiveness, especially in
its opening adagio, than is often
the case in these trios; the sensitive
interplay and internal balance of the
Eisenstadts is particularly striking
in this movement. Hob.XV:11 and 13 are
complex works formally speaking, rich
exemplars of Haydn’s extraordinary musical
Of Haydn’s 1790 trios
we are here given ten examples. There
are too many delights here for even
the briefest enumeration of them all.
Good as Haydn’s previous trios had been,
these move onto a new plane. Ideas are
developed further and treated even more
inventively, movements are more richly
individualised; harmonically Haydn is
more adventurous; some are on an altogether
larger scale than their predecessors,
most require more all-round virtuosity.
The best of these trios from the 1790s
are amongst the great works of the chamber
music tradition. Hob. XV:18, for example,
opens with an almost monumentally conceived
allegro moderato, follows this
with a beautiful siciliana and
closes with a gloriously witty allegro.
Hob. XV:20 is a sophisticated, technically
demanding piece, testing for both pianist
and violinist (no problems are experienced
here) in its opening allegro, and quite
ravishing in its use of a sad ländler
for the violin in its final movement.
Hob. XV:21 is a constant delight, in
its characteristically Haydenesque fusion
of the rustic and the ultra-sophisticated.
Hob. XV:22 is a masterpiece by any standards,
harmonically bold and full of formal
complexities handled with seeming nonchalance.
It would be tedious to go on enumerating
the joys of these late trios. Suffice
it to say that they are one of the most
rewarding groups of compositions ever
to have been written, even by Haydn,
and that the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt gives
enjoyable, polished, subtle performances
If you are lucky enough
to own the classic recordings by the
Beaux Arts Trio you won’t want to throw
them away and there are, of course,
other good performances of some of these
trios. But this is music which welcomes
– and deserves – different performance
perspectives. I have had enormous pleasure
(and no little mental stimulation!)
from these 4 CDs. I look forward eagerly
to the second instalment of the Eisenstadts
recording of these marvellous trios.
Very strongly recommended.