Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Octet (Divertimento No. 1) in G (H X,12) [14:09]
Quintet in D (H X,10) [13:46]
Octet (Divertimento No. 3) in G (H X,5) [14:08]
Octet in D (H X,1) [17:12]
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. 13-15 January 2009, Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72345 [59:18]
The title of this disc simply says "Divertimenti",
but the programme specifically concentrates on music for an
instrument which is associated with Haydn as with no other
composer: the baryton. If he hadn't written so much music
for this instrument
it may well have been completely forgotten. But as his employer,
Nikolaus I Esterházy, was a devoted player of the instrument,
Haydn composed more than 160 pieces for him to play.
Leopold Mozart gave this description of the instrument in his
Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756): "This
instrument has, like the gamba, six or seven strings. The neck
is very wide, with the back surface hollowed out and open, under
which run nine or ten brass and steel strings. These are plucked
with the thumb, so that in fact whilst the main melodic line
is played with the bow on the gut strings strung on the front
of the instrument, the thumb simultaneously plays the bass line
by plucking the strings under the neck. It is for this reason
that the pieces need to be specifically composed. It is, incidentally,
one of the most graceful instruments." The German composer
and author Friedrich August Weber (1753-1806) described the
sound as a combination of viola da gamba and harp and wrote
that its sound moved him to tears.
At first Haydn only reluctantly composed music for the baryton,
mainly because he wasn't familiar with it. When his employer
urged him to write more, he decided to study the instrument
in order to get acquainted with it. He discovered that Nikolaus
was wrong in stating that only one tonality could be used. After
thoroughly examining the possibilities he reported to Nikolaus
that it was perfectly possible to compose in more keys. As the
gambist and baryton player José Vázquez told his audience during
a concert, "the Prince was not amused".
By all accounts Nikolaus' abilities were limited and Haydn took
this into consideration. That is noticeable in the four compositions
recorded here by the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam. The three
Divertimenti ŕ 8, also known as Octets, were originally written
for baryton, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and two
horns. But most of them were published in a version in which
the baryton part was replaced by the transverse flute, and as
not all original versions have been preserved some reconstruction
has had to take place.
On this disc the Octet in G (H X,5) is played as it was printed,
with a flute instead of the baryton. Here the trick Haydn used
to make things easier for his employer is most noticeable: the
flute (baryton) mostly plays unisono with one of the
other instruments. If there are any solo passages for the baryton
in these works, they are mostly rather easy. One of the characteristics
of the baryton, the possibility to bow and pluck the strings
simultaneously, is completely avoided. A performer can do it
nevertheless, as a kind of 'ornamentation', but this is not
applied here. Considering the scoring of the three octets this
seems quite justifiable.
In the Octets the two horns play a remarkable role. Although
they are mostly used to support the ensemble and add some colour
to it these parts are often quite virtuosic and the horn players
are given the opportunity to show off now and then. This reflects
the quality of the Esterházy orchestra, whose best players were
probably involved in the performance of the Octets.
A special case is the Quintet as it is called here. It is one
of two Divertimenti ŕ 5, of which only the one played here has
been preserved. It is scored for baryton, viola, bass (here
played by cello and double bass) and two horns. It contains
hardly any solo passages for any of the instruments, unlike
the Octets. It is a typical divertimento with its sequence of
a slow movement, followed by a fast movement and closed by a
menuet. The Octets show greater variety in this respect: the
Octets H X, 1 and 12 begin with a moderate movement - moderato
and allegro moderato respectively -, which is followed
by an adagio, whereas the last movement is a presto.
The Octet in G (H X,5) follows the pattern of the Quintet, but
the last movement is another presto instead of a menuet.
Haydn's music with baryton belongs to the category of musical
entertainment. But we should be aware that this was very different
from what in our time is considered musical entertainment. In
the hands of composers like Haydn and Mozart this kind of music
is anything but simple and easy. Haydn's divertimenti are music
of high calibre; anything less would have been an insult to
Haydn's employer. Therefore, if played well they are still able
to captivate and at the same time entertain the modern listener.
That is certainly the case here, as the Combattimento Consort
gives spiritual and technically brilliant performances of these
The ensemble plays modern instruments but in its interpretation
it follows the principles of historical performance practice.
I have heard it many times on the radio in concert registrations,
and I have often noticed that it applies these principles more
radically than some period instrument ensembles. The strings
play virtually without vibrato which guarantees a very transparent
sound, and the interpretation is very gestural and dramatic
by emphasizing contrasts in colour and dynamics. The baryton
is very well played here by Freek Borstlap who has his own baryton
trio, and is fully integrated in the ensemble.
The complete works with baryton by Haydn have been recorded
for Brilliant Classics on period instruments by the Esterházy
Ensemble, but I can imagine that some may find this a little
too much of a good thing. For them this is an excellent way
to get acquainted with the instrument and Haydn's music for
it. I wouldn't be surprised if listening to this disc led them
to buy the complete set anyway.
Johan van Veen