Johann Michael Haydn, the "Salzburg Haydn" has always stood in the shadow
of his elder brother Joseph. He might have gone on to higher profile posts
but decided to stay in Salzburg, being regarded highly during his lifetime
by colleagues such as Mozart but somehow staying under the radar since his
death. Leopold Mozart pointed out that he was a bit of a drinker which may
account for a certain lack of ambition, but who are we to speculate.
The string quintets are scored for two violins, two violas and cello. This
results in a fuller sound than the standard quartet, its richness
unencumbered by a less agile double-bass, but the pairings of upper and
middle instruments inviting a more 'orchestral' approach. This is all pretty
amiable music in a 'galant' style which doesn't challenge in terms of real
drama or emotional potency, making up for lack of Sturm und Drang
with plenty of wit and grace.
The whole set is full of gentle delights, though there are particularly
attractive contrasts such as the delicate muted and pizzicato
from the Quintet in C major
and the symphonic
nearly 13 minute duration of the Adagio affettuoso
Quintet in G major
, the bustling Finale
of which also
deserving of a mention - a shoe-in as the theme for an 18th
century sit-com series.
There have been one or two other recordings of these works in the past.
L'archibudelli had three of them on a Sony Vivarte release which is now out
of print, but there is a complete set by Concilium Musicum Wien on the Koch
Schwann label which looks like an interesting prospect. I haven't managed to
access this for comparison which is annoying for all concerned. The
Salzburger Haydn-Quintett have the arguable advantage of an 'all-Salzburg'
environment for their recording, the address of which turns out to be Der
Langenhof, which is quite a significant noble palace and one which Haydn
would no doubt have known, though no reference is made to it in the booklet.
The acoustic is nice and airy, having the kind of chamber-music resonance
which would probably have been more familiar to 18th
musicians than grand concert halls. The instruments are not recorded too
closely, the perspective more that of a perfect seat in the hall than a seat
in the musician's laps. The instruments used are almost all of period
vintage and the performing style is in the clean and minimal-vibrato
historical sector, though there is in fact a fair bit of vibrato used - just
not of the big Romantic kind. I'm guessing these are gut strings used though
again, I don't see any indications on this in the booklet.
This is a nice set which sits in a thinly-populated section of the
Classical repertoire listings. It probably won't rock your world to its
foundations, but nor will you regret its acquisition.