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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Twenty Variations in G major, Hob.XVII:2 (c.1765) [17:00]
Theme and variations in C major, Hob. XVII:5 (1790) [6:31]
Capriccio in G major, Hob.XVII:1 (1765) [7:10]
Arietta con 12 Variazioni, Hob.XVII:3 (c.1770) [16:04]
Variations on “Gott erhalte”, after Hob.III.77 (c.1797?) [8:02]
Divertimento: Il maestro e lo Scolare*, Hob.XVIIa:1 (c.1767) [11:26]
Jenő Jandó (piano), with Zsuzsa Kollár (piano)*
rec. April 1996, Unitarian Church, Budapest.
NAXOS 8.553972 [66:11]

 

There have to be eight of you if you want to castrate a boar - two at the front and two at the back, two to do the cutting, two to do the binding. It takes eight of you to castrate a boar.

I am prompted to offer you that piece of necessary advice by the presence on this CD by Jenő Jandó – recorded ten years ago but not, I think, issued until now – of Haydn’s Capriccio in G, an extraordinary set of variations on the folk-song ‘Eahna achte müssen ‘s seyn’ (the opening sentences above being my attempt at a translation of the first verse of the song). I call it a set of variations, and it appears on a CD entitled ‘Piano Variations’, but it isn’t by any means an altogether orthodox set. The theme is first presented in an incomplete form – cut off, as it were. The first half of the theme reappears in largely the same form in a series of different keys, arranged to the sharp side and the flat side of the home key. The very inventive material in between these repeated iterations of the first half of the theme largely takes the form of variations on the second half of the theme. The whole demonstrates both Haydn’s robust sense of humour and his extraordinarily subtle musical intelligence. So, too, in varying proportions, do the other sets of variations on this richly entertaining CD.

The Twenty Variations belong to much the same period as the Capriccio. Working with a simple, dancing theme, Haydn has some characteristic surprises for his listener – some of them harmonic, some rhythmic. Individual variations exploit particular musical ideas – such as the triplet rhythms of the first, the thirds of the tenth variation and the chords with tenths for the left hand in the final variation. The whole is a small-scale encyclopaedia or handbook of keyboard resources.

The Divertimento, for piano duet, acts out – as its title suggests – an imagined music lesson. The opening theme is played by the ‘maestro’ and is imitated, almost phrase by phrase, by the ‘scolare’. Gradually, the material becomes a little more demanding and the ‘progress’ that the pupil has made is rewarded, in the second movement, by the granting of a greater independence from the examples provided by the master. There is much charming music to be heard in the enactment of this scenario.

The harmonically sophisticated variations catalogued as Hoboken XVII:3 have as their theme the beautiful minuet from the second of Haydn’s Opus 9 Quartet. Some of the variations  - especially the tenth - are attractively ornamented, some play teasing games with rhythm and dynamics. The C Major variations, written shortly before Haydn’s first visit to London, are pleasant if unexceptional, fluent and graceful.

The variations on “Gott erhalte” were not published until 1815 and were, for a long time, attributed to Abbé Jose Gelinek. The theme is, of course, familiar to us – if from nowhere else – from Haydn’s Emperor quartet (Opus 76, No. 3). Indeed, these piano variations are, effectively, a keyboard arrangement of the variations in the string quartet. The results have a quiet dignity, a restrained lyricism which is very attractive.

There might, of course, be much to be said about the rightness, or otherwise, of performing all this music on the modern piano – some of it pretty certainly being originally written for the harpsichord, and some of it for several different early incarnations of the fortepiano. But such issues need not, surely, be discussed every time we listen to performances of Haydn’s works for keyboard. It is surely sufficient here to say that Jenő Jandó plays the pieces with clarity, intelligence and affection (and that Zsuzsa Kollár makes a very good ‘pupil’ in Il maestro e lo Scolare.

This is enjoyable music without great pretensions (but characterised by the high intelligence that has gone into its composition), played with a matching lack of pretentiousness. Jandó resists any temptation to inflate the music, while making it clear that it has much more than porcelain daintiness to offer - after all the castration of boars is not the kind of scene very often depicted on the porcelain of the time!

Glyn Pursglove

 

 

 



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