Much is known of Haydn’s time at Esterházy, rather less of his
tenure as music director of Count Morzin’s private orchestra
in Bohemia. Haydn was already 27 when he took up the post, based
at Lukavice Castle. It must have been a relief to finally earn
a full-time salary and as a bonus it seems the Morzin band was
an accomplished one. The wind divertimenti come from this period
of the composer’s life, although dates of composition are sometimes
approximate. Suffice to say they were all written between 1760
term ‘divertimento’ is supplanted in copies by the appellation
‘Parthia’, the latter a development of the old dance suite.
Now out of favour the suite had given rise to ‘Parthie/Parthia/Partita’,
with an Allegro, Andante or Presto added to the usual dance
movements. But that too became unfashionable and was replaced
by works that only retained one dance form – the minuet.
terms ‘Feld-Parthie’ and ‘Kammer-Parthie’ indicate whether
these works are to be played inside or out. Of the works recorded
here the term ‘Parthia’ applies to Hob. II:7, 14, 15 and 23
but we have no way of knowing where they were intended to
It’s clear from
the first notes of Hob. II:15 that this recording is very
up front. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, especially
as detail and timbre are nicely projected. Some listeners
may find this a little too bracing and decide to sample the
disc rather than hear it all in one sitting. As expected the
members of the Haydn Ensemble Berlin – drawn from the Berliner
Philharmoniker, Berliner Staatsoper and Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester
– play with considerable polish and refinement.
The two minuets
of Hob: II:15 are delightful, the Presto full of zing and
zest. Articulation is impressive and rhythms are nicely sprung.
The Adagio of Hob. II:23, also in F major, is particularly
fine, the second minuet on the fast side but always well pointed
At times I might
have preferred a bit more warmth and bloom but the advantage
of this dryish acoustic is that every tiny detail registers
with startling clarity. In Hob II:14 for instance the clarinets
bring a degree of astringency to the proceedings without ever
sounding over bright or overbearing. In fact the instrumental
blend here and throughout is exemplary.
As sprightly as
much of this music is it’s often the elegant minuets that
bring out the best in these players. That said the more bravura
finales – that of Hob, II:14 in particular – are full of high
spirits. One could easily imagine these pieces being played
to great effect in the castle grounds.
Haydn can make these
scores sound surprisingly orchestral at times, as in the Allegro
of the D major divertimento (Hob. II:D18). This movement is
astonishingly weighty and sonorous, the horn calls surely an
echo of the composer’s Symphony No. 31 in D major ‘Hornsignal’,
written at about the same time. And the witty instrumental ‘dialogue’
of the Scherzo is well done, too. The sudden crescendos of the
Adagio come as something of a surprise, though, and would certainly
silence idle chatter or rouse the inattentive listener.
The Allegro of
the G major divertimento (Hob. deest) seems almost Mozartian
in its general airiness and joie de vivre, the Andante
notable for some surprisingly piquant harmonies. As always
the ensemble work in the fast-moving Presto is crisp and clean.
The final piece
on the disc, in D major, has an imperious Allegro but it’s
the minuet that gives the most pleasure. Here it’s much perkier
than usual, the horns particularly thrilling in their unison
playing. And surprise and japery seem to be an intrinsic part
of Haydn’s musical make-up, the Presto ending unexpectedly
after just half a minute.
This is a thoroughly
enjoyable disc and a reminder, if it were needed, of Haydn’s
mastery of just about every musical genre of his time. The Berlin
wind players are an exceptional group and while this isn’t enough
to guarantee success in these works it certainly pays off here.
The CD comes in a handsome matt gatefold box but I seriously
question the wisdom of storing the disc in a cardboard ‘corner’
and not a conventional spindle. I ended up touching the playing
surface and nearly dropping the CD in my efforts to extract
it. And, oh, those pasted-in liner-notes really are very cumbersome.
But I can’t possibly
end this review on a sour note. This is a most engaging collection,
guaranteed to gladden the hearts of all who hear it.