Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trios - The heart of invention
Piano Trio no. 25 in C major, op. 75 no. 1 (Hob.XV:27) (1797) [18:52]
Piano Trio no. 26 in E major, op. 75 no. 2 (Hob.XV:28) (1797) [16:13]
Piano Trio no. 24 in F sharp minor, op. 73 no. 3 (Hob.XV:26) (1795) [14:49]
Piano Trio no. 22 in D major, op. 73 no. 1 (Hob.XV:24) (1795) [14:13]
Trio Goya
rec. Real World Studios, Box, Wiltshire, 7-10 December 2008, DDD

Confidence and exhilaration are the chief impressions left at the opening of this CD which begins with Haydn’s Piano Trio 25. Brightness and clarity of sound in a close recording contribute to this as does the tight chamber ensemble. The period instruments are well matched in rhythmic impetus. The fortepiano is the distinctive difference in comparison with modern instrument recordings using a pianoforte. Where the pianoforte gives you vibrant creamy colours the fortepiano offers more pastel shades, reduced sheer power in tone but still percussive impact where appropriate. Admittedly it’s an acquired taste: what I find pleasing delicacy others may feel is quaintly puny. What’s not in doubt in Trio 25 from the first movement is the work’s virtuosity: the lively times when violin and piano exchange scampering in semiquavers, the rakish lolloping arpeggios in the piano’s left hand at tr. 1 1:06 and in the right hand at 2:00. Then there’s the attractive variation in this performance when the violin decorates the pause at the end of the first statement (0:27) but the fortepiano decorates it in the repeat (2:44), a typical example of Trio Goya’s refinement.

I compared the classic 1972 recording on modern instruments by the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips 454 098-2). Timing at 6:59 against Trio Goya’s 8:41, the BAT deliver a truer Allegro. This makes the piece more light-hearted, the piano’s semiquavers especially frothy and arpeggios more skittish. Their emphasis on horizontal flow shows well how the conversation mainly between piano and violin knits together. Trio Goya, on the other hand, give more attention to the vertical texture, thus placing the entries and effects between the instruments more deliberately. This imparts more of a serious and sometimes heroic vein to the whole with a more troubled development (4:35). There’s a gain in clarity if a little loss in spontaneity.

In the siciliano slow movement, however, it’s TG who provide a truer Andante which very attractively celebrates the simple, song-like flow of the melody and engagement by all three instruments. This is enhanced by the piano delicately elaborating the significant staging posts. BAT are more expansive and full of romantic nuance and reflection. They are more arty but this makes the central section in A minor somewhat heavy where TG are purposeful. In the Presto finale it’s BAT who are a touch niftier at 4:37 against TG’s 5:06. Nevertheless TG’s account is vivacious and emphasises the incisive rhythms. The development (2:35) is full of determination. There’s a particularly relished heady moment from 4:24 just before the coda when all three instruments have the running semiquavers which are the piano’s staple diet in this irrepressible piece. BAT are more nonchalant at the start, with lighter articulation, but find more dynamic shading generally and more contrast and drama in the development.

In the three other trios on their CD I’ll concentrate on the virtues of Trio Goya’s period instrument performances. Piano Trio 26 begins with a homely melody. It’s rendered more integral by its theme being presented at the same time as a sustained song in the right hand of the piano and a pizzicato articulation in the violin. The piano bass is staccato, doubled by a pizzicato cello. But it’s the violin’s soaring escape from this, an airy expansion of its potential, which proves to be in TG’s account the most welcome feature. The central movement is even more of a surprise, a sequence of variations on a baroque style bass line, the first of which (tr. 5 0:21) manages at the same time to be a reflective and soulful piano solo (Maggie Cole). Violinist Kati Debretzeni makes her impact, however, in the third variation in which she takes up the ‘bass’ in upper register (2:52) against the theme in the cello. One feels for cellist Sebastian Comberti, urbane in tone and expression though he is throughout, in drawing comparatively the short straw most of the time. The finale seems an informal affair with dancing theme and offbeat kicks but the development (tr. 6 1:42) has an element of grimness in its purpose and the violin’s closing high register sweetness contains bittersweet echoes. This is indeed mature music.

Piano Trio 24 has a first movement exposition whose opening clouds begin to be dispelled even by the second part of the first theme (tr. 7 0:19). The second theme (0:48) sparkles with the piano’s semiquaver descents and its second part (1:04) is positively jolly. However, the clouds are delineated further in the development (2:55) which finds even that jolly theme reappearing in thoughtful guise. TG’s performance is crisply pointed but the second part of this movement from the development should be repeated to balance the exposition repeat. Except balance isn’t the right word because that second part without repeat takes 2:32. Rather it’s a matter of asserting the home key of F sharp minor and the contrast of F sharp major in the gorgeous slow movement. You may well recognize this as it’s another version of Symphony 102’s slow movement, now a semitone higher. It’s charming, expressive and exquisite, more warm and personal with the theme shared in turn by piano and violin. In the lovely shape and phrasing of Trio Goya’s performance I found myself preferring this Piano Trio version for its fresher, cleaner projection and clarity of harmony. The Minuet finale is of a stoic cast, dominated by the piano. As a kind of Trio a variant of the melody makes the switch once again from F sharp minor to major (tr. 9, 2:16), with violin now to the fore, to show that there can be brighter days. These are also briefly distilled in the coda (4:46).

Lastly Piano Trio 22, the least demonstrative of the four on this CD but satisfying in its quiet way. Its first movement has an easygoing, mellow manner owing to the pervasiveness of its opening six-note motif from which the piano occasionally escapes in tripping semiquavers beneath a suddenly perky violin. Its development (tr. 10, 3:54), though not without incident, is unusually contented. The slow movement, this time dominated by its opening four-note motif, is more intriguing. For me Trio Goya catch in it a prototype for a Mahler funeral march because there’s a playful element distanced from its formal features. It can hurl itself in high tragic vein into a succession of demisemiquavers above the tune in the cello and left-hand of the piano (tr. 12, 1:50). But then the piano’s plangent statement of the falling motif is waspishly subverted by the violin’s rising interruptions (2:04). The movement ends with a question, answered positively by the finale. This is marked ‘Fast but sweet’, a difficult combination to bring off but TG do it well. You’re relaxed by its freer, expansive, assured and benign line, further set in relief by the contrast of a stormy central section.

Here then are discerning accounts which ably show how fine and still underrated a composer Haydn is. Close to the sound he’d have expected, they are presented sympathetically without showmanship yet with sensitive and judiciously varied ornamentation in repeats.

Michael Greenhalgh

Discerning accounts presented sympathetically.