Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trios Volume 1
Piano Trio no. 24 in F sharp minor (Hob.XV:26) (?1794) [13:52]
Piano Trio no. 22 in D major (Hob.XV:24) (1795) [12:20]
Piano Trio no. 23 in G major (Hob.XV:25) (1795) [14:46]
Piano Trio no. 28 in E flat minor (Hob.XV:31) (1795) [11:37]
Kungsbacka Piano Trio - Malin Broman (violin); Jesper Svedberg (cello); Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 6-8 April 2008, DDD
NAXOS 8.572040 [52:35]

The New Grove lists both systems for numbering Haydnís piano trios: the Hoboken catalogue sequence beginning ĎHob.XVí and a differing straight number sequence. Naxos cites the Hoboken numbers but also numbers the trios with those numbers which is misleading, so I use the straight number sequence in the heading and this review.

The Kungsbacka Piano Trio begin their survey of Haydnís piano trios with a fairly atypical example, Piano Trio 24 being in a minor key and a little used one at that: F sharp minor. But this beginning takes us to mature Haydn, so everything is more subtle and complex than it might at first seem. The opening movement in this performance (tr. 1) moves smoothly, more Allegretto than the marked Allegro, from rather sombre, if gracious, reflection through a pastel-shaded transition to the refined, lightly buoyant jollity of the second theme (0:50). During all this you appreciate too the pleasing interplay between the instruments and the occasional high-spots for all, notably, because more rare, the sudden outcry of the cello at 1:34. On the whole, though, KPT favour understatement, for example with regard to the sforzandi in the development from 3:15. You might feel the warm slow movement, certainly cantabile but more Adagietto than the marked Adagio, is too understated. I did on first hearing but thereafter readily succumbed to this mellow and gentle interpretation. The finale, marked Tempo di Minuetto, is very much characterized as a scherzo, with a lightly playful, quizzical start then a gawkily jocular progress. You feel the central section in F sharp major, which you could call the trio, is the movementís haven where allís well. But itís only a haven and you have to come to terms with returning to reality and F sharp minor, however well crafted and elegantly turned. Here I would have preferred the minor key material a little darker and tougher which would set off the major key material even more.

I compared the classic 1970 recording by the Beaux Arts Trio (Philips 454 098-2). The opening movement from BAT is a truer Allegro. This makes the expression more clipped and cheery from the outset and thereís accordingly less contrast between the first and second themes. BATís sforzandi are more crisp and also urgent. The movement is better balanced because, unlike KPT, the second half is repeated as marked. BATís slow movement is more measured and in this a truer Adagio cantabile, revealing more nuance, more eloquence. The starker moments are more integrated within the whole. BAT bring to the finale their coolest manner but this is tempered in that they always point the dancing nature of the rhythms. However, this means that the major section isnít so distinct in mood, though itís daintier in style.

Trio 22 (tr. 4) opens quietly but is soon cheerier and in KPTís account often moves effortlessly from thoughtful to lively. Youíll also appreciate their variation of presentation, such as making the second phrase (0:17) softer at the outset; similarly the repeat of a phrase at 2:46, the latter not marked in the score but appropriate and effective. The development (3:45) has a creamily cool start and intense thoughtfulness. What were vaunting piano leaps in the exposition are now (4:44) more considered. Appreciable from 6:10 is the interplay of all the instruments. The slow movement seems to me a funeral march and is presented so by BAT with an angrier second section (tr. 5 1:01 in KPTís account). Thereís a pained doggedness about the insistency of the opening four-note motif. KPTís approach is a faster Andante, 2:35 against BATís 3:10, thereby smoother but also more matter-of-fact. The cascades of demisemiquavers from 1:45 in the violin and the right hand of the piano against the tune in the cello and piano left hand are objectively distilled at mezzo piano. There they are given a louder and more rigorous impact by BAT. The finale (tr. 6) is marked Allegro ma dolce and KPT are more successful in the Allegro aspect. Their playing is a marvel of fluency but I miss the sense of benign summation that I get with BATís slightly steadier tempo, 2:49 against KPTís 2:32.

Delivered at a well judged Andante and with the three instruments beautifully balanced, KPTís opening movement of Trio 23 (tr. 7) seems to me ideal. So enjoy the urbane presentation from the start and greater involvement by the cello than usual because of the rising phrase first heard from 0:44 in the rondoís second strain. The first variation of the rondo theme (1:15) briefly flirts with G minor but soon freshens. The opening G major rondo returns (2:30) with increasingly rippling texture. The only episode (3:44) showcases the violin, sparklingly delivered without dominating. The closing rondo return (4:39) spotlights the pianoís dexterity but again the others are allowed their say. KPTís Poco Adagio second movement, however, is for me too flowing. While itís clear that the ornamentation is an integral part of the melodic line, you become too aware of the structure. Here BAT, timing at 6:17 against KPTís 5:19, find throughout the breathing space and poise that KPTís tender violin melody shows in the central section. KPTís treatment of the famous ĎRondo in the Gipsiesí styleí finale, on the other hand, very fetchingly contrasts a light articulation of the rondo at a merry Presto with fittingly racier episodes incorporating earthy tempo fluctuations.

With Trio 28 (Hob.XV:31) we come full circle to another uncommon minor key, this time E flat minor, but itís the ambivalence of the opening movement (tr. 10), well caught in KPTís flowing Andante, thatís fascinating. Reflective soberness is frequently softened so the rondoís first episode in E flat major (2:10) doesnít seem out of place, just a spotlighting of a sometimes lurking happier mood, with lovely feathery touch from pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips in its second partís demisemiquavers. The second episode in B major (5:06) features a homely violin solo with a sensitive mezza voce style from Malin Broman in the repeat of the second strain. The second movement (tr. 11) with its joyous ascents for violin and piano shows happiness now triumphant.

For me KPTís consistently pacy approach is only sometimes successful yet they give always good and sometimes very good performances recorded with vivid immediacy.

Michael Greenhalgh

Always good and sometimes very good performances.