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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trios - Volume 1
Piano Trio in D major, Hob XV: 24 (1794-5) [15:15]
Piano Trio in G major ‘Gypsy Rondo’, Hob XV: 25 (1794-5) [13:42]
Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Hob XV: 26 (1794-5) [16:27]
Piano Trio in C major, Hob XV: 27 (1794-5) [19:02]
Florestan Trio
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 27-29 March 2008
HYPERION CDA67719 [64:28]
Experience Classicsonline

Haydn is seen as the ‘father’ of so many classical forms; the symphony, the string quartet, the piano sonata, and it’s certainly true of the piano trio. He raised the bar considerably in taking the genre from light home entertainment, where piano was basically accompanied by a couple of string players, to the more elevated level we are now accustomed to. It is true most of his trios are still quite short and are still piano-led, but the working out of thematic material and the interplay between the instruments surely point the way ahead for a form that many future composers ended up exploring.
 
The Florestan Trio have obviously been biding their time to investigate Haydn, having delved into much of the other trio repertoire on disc already. It could be because it’s the bicentenary, or maybe they just wanted to live with the music longer before committing it to disc. Either way, it’s been worth the wait. The playing here, as you would expect, is beautifully poised, highly polished but has a rhythmic vitality and energy that do full justice to the music. Yes, these are modern instruments, but one feels they have taken a hint or two for period practice in terms of tempos, phrasing and overall shape. The tone of the two string instruments is quite strident at times – though never uncomfortable so – and pianist Susan Tomes’ articulation and dexterity are brilliant in every sense of the word, with a Steinway that sounds bright and clear voiced.
 
The works are all gems from Haydn’s second London visit of 1794-5, and the first three are dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, a composer’s widow to whom he gave lessons during this period; the letters that survive suggest a warm, intimate relationship developed that may indeed have gone further if circumstances had been different. The music throughout has a mercurial wit and melodic invention that are irresistible. Highlights include the famous ‘Gypsy Rondo’ finale to the G major, a glittering miniature in its own right; the glorious slow movement of the F sharp minor - where material is shared with the London Symphony No.102 - and the melancholic minuet that follows. Indeed, it’s possible to read extra-musical associations into the whole of this lovely trio such is the expert mixture of sadness and mercurial virtuosity, none of which is missed by the Florestan.
 
So, an auspicious start to what one hopes will encompass all, or most, of the 30-odd trios in the series. The benchmark recording for some years has been the Beaux Arts Trio’s complete 9 CD Philips set from 1997, and those I have sampled are every bit as urbane and sensitive as you would expect. There are other rivals, but those who want that bit more zip and rhythmic alertness could do well to investigate this excellent new Florestan disc. The recorded sound is superb, and with typically full and intelligent notes from Robert Philip, this is self-recommending. Roll on the rest!
 
Tony Haywood
 

 


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