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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Trio No. 27 in A flat major, Hob. XV/14 (1790) [18:54]
Piano Trio No. 32 in A major, Hob. XV/18 (1793) [13:55]
Piano Trio No. 35 in C major, Hob. XV/21 (1794) [12:32]
Piano Trio No. 40 in F sharp major (?), Hob. XV/26 (1795) [12:21]
Piano Trio No. 41 in E flat major, Hob. XV/31 (1797) [10:58]
Trio Wanderer
rec. 2017, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902321 [68:42]

As the booklet notes point out piano trios, or ‘sonatas for keyboard accompanied by violin and cello’, were a good way of generating income, since they were very popular with the upper classes during the second half of the eighteenth century, who would perform them as family entertainment or amongst groups of friends on a purely amateur basis. With Haydn responding to a London publishing house he earned a steady income from his collections of trios, a lot of which were composed in groups of three.

I have two complete sets of Haydn’s piano trios, including the usual suspects, the Beaux Arts Trio (432 061-2), the other set is by the Van Swieten Trio on Brilliant (92794) who offer a period instrument performance along with a fortepiano, which I know will put many listeners off, as a friend of mine often says “if he wanted to hear a piano that sounded like that he would go to the local pub”. They also offer the three Trios Nos. 15 to 17 in their alternative version with flute rather than violin; I have come to enjoy the Van Swieten’s performance to the extent that I prefer their playing to the occasionally more romantic sounding performance of the Beaux Arts. The Trio Wanderer offer a halfway house so to speak, with their performance on modern instruments played with historical sensibilities. I have greatly enjoyed their earlier disc of Haydn Trios Nos. 39, 43-45 from 2001, which in now on a mid-priced disc (HMG 501968), and on the evidence of this new disc, let us hope that it is not another seventeen years before they release another disc of Haydn.

The five trios presented on this disc are all important in the development of Haydn’s style of composing piano trios. The A flat Major, Hob XV:14 of 1790 marks a decided leap in originality and technical demands; this was a work for the professional musician or the most gifted amateurs, and one in which Haydn begins to experiment with the form of the piece. For a long time, the string instruments had been subordinate to the piano, but here they often get the starring role, the opening melody of the slow movement for example.

The three trios, Nos. 18-20, were composed in conjunction with the composer’s second trip to England in 1794/95, with this set being the first of a number of sets composed for English publishers during this period. The Trio in A Major, Hob XV:18 of 1794 is striking for its lead between the slow second and Hungarian inspired third movements, here Haydn uses an ‘imperfect cadence’ at the end of the Andante to link directly into the Allegro.

The Trio in C Major, Hob XV:21 of 1795 is important in that it represents the only trio that Haydn composed with a slow introduction, with its six bar Adagio pastorale leading into the Vivace assai section of the first movement. After beautiful slow movement, Haydn returns in the final movement to the bucolic pastoral atmosphere of the first movement.

In October 1795 another set of three trios, XV:24-26 appeared; these three trios were dedicated to his friend and piano pupil Rebecca Schroeter, with many seeing the grandeur of the outer movements of number 26 as an indication of the composer’s sadness on leaving England in the summer of 1795. Haydn seems to have thought greatly of the second movement Adagio cantabile of this trio as he transposes it in to the key of F sharp minor for inclusion in his Symphony in B flat Major, Hob I:102, the chronological evidence now pointing to the Trio coming before the Symphony and not, as was long held, the other way around.

The final trio on this disc is the Trio in E flat minor, Hob XV:31. In this trio Haydn combines the only piece that he composed in 1795 after his return to Vienna early in September, the Andante cantabile, with its contrasting sections, a cross between a rondo and a set of variations, with another single trio movement, an Allegro known as ‘Jacob’s Dream’, that was probably composed the previous year. The allusion to the Biblical figure of Jacob and his ladder to heaven was included on the original manuscript but was later removed by the composer, the nickname of the movement has remained though; what is unknown is why Haydn delayed releasing this Trio for publication until 1803.

The Trio Wanderer are wonderful and lively in this repertoire, their tempos are generally swifter than both the Beaux Arts Trio and the Van Swieten Trio, some 2 minutes in the Andante cantabile of No. 31 alone, but they never sound rushed. They produce a beautiful well-balanced tone and you get a full sense of ensemble; their sound is neither too romanticised or too baroque sounding, rather they have hit the happy medium, a performance that shines and is one I will return to often. Let us hope that they are allowed to shine in future recordings of Haydn. They are helped by a very good acoustic that helps produce a fairly natural sound, whilst the booklet notes are very good also.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous review: David Barker


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