Little Things In Odd Shapes
Michael HAYDN (1737 – 1805)
Divertimento in G HM518 (1790) [13:27]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805]
Quintet in D minor op.55 no. 6 G436 (1797) [10:45]
Notturno in E flat op. 38 No.1 G467 (1787) [11:14]
Divertimento in B flat HM 199 (1774) [20:32]
Istante Period Instrument Collective
rec. 2018, London
NOVANTIQUA NA35 [55:58]
None of the music on this lovely disc is well-known, but don’t let that put you off. The quality of the music is a bit variable, but it’s mostly entertaining and enjoyable, and is played with charm and elegance by this young ensemble.
The Istante Collective is a group of musical friends who originally came together in 2016 to play at the Baroquestock Festival in Hampstead. The violinist Beatrice Scaldini, who plays in some of the works here, writes in the booklet that ‘the repertoire for wind and strings has proved ideally congenial to us, especially as it perfectly reflects our own search for personal and musical stability’. Well – not much sign of instability here; but what does come through is the humour, the enjoyment and the friendship in the music-making, which after all is the essence of chamber music. (There is also a lengthy and interesting article by Scaldini on the spread of ideas in Europe throughout the Enlightenment, and following through as far as World War Two, referencing fascism and the resistance movement).
There are several nationalities represented within the group – Italian, American, Norwegian, French, British – and we are treated to the sound of period instruments and gut strings. So we have two pieces by Michael Haydn – Joseph’s younger brother – flanking two by Luigi Boccherini. To take Boccherini first; he was a famous ‘cellist, and as a composer is best-known for his string quintets. It’s fair to say he liked that medium – or someone did – because he wrote nearly 150 of them! But also a fair amount of music which included wind instruments.
The two movements of this oboe quintet in D minor from 1797 – an Allegro and a Minuet and Trio – are quite striking, with a certain intensity deriving from the minor key. The oboe is clearly a soloist, though the strings do much more than merely accompany. The rather fierce Minuet is particularly interesting, bringing to mind such minor key minuets as Mozart’s from Symphony no.40
or the C minor Serenade. Oboist Nicola Barbagli plays, as he does throughout the programme, with great flair and imagination. What I particularly like about his playing is that he doesn’t try to conceal the difficulties of his 18th century instrument – he simply overcomes them!
The Notturno in E flat that follows, written in 1787 is a far more relaxed piece, and benefits from the delicious horn playing of David Horwich. The sequence of movements is unusual in that it begins with a calm Andante, followed by an amiable Allegro, and finishing, like the oboe quintet, with a Minuet and Trio. The music is slight and undemanding, but made so pleasurable by the affectionate and sensitive performance.
Those qualities are equally to be found in the two Michael Haydn works, which, personally, I find much more musically interesting than the Boccherini ones. Though the first three movements of his Divertimento in G bring nothing very remarkable, the finale is a cracker, quite worthy of his more celebrated brother, with the instruments scampering round like mad things, and the pair of horns sounding out brassily at the end.
The CD ends with Haydn’s fine Divertimento in B flat of 1774. This gives plenty of opportunities to enjoy the fine playing of bassoonist Hayley Pullen and violist Elitsa Borisova Bogdanova. There is a particularly lovely Adagio, where the oboe and bassoon have a duet with a melody that, once more, could easily be one of brother Joseph’s creations. This piece was quite a discovery for me; the tranquil minuet has a trio in the key of B flat minor no less – a real rarity in the 18th century (can you think of a piece, or even a movement, by Mozart or Haydn in that key?), and another rollicking – though far from uneventful - finale, Allegro molto. Look out for the ending – it’s hilarious!
The booklet article about the music is titled ‘Our Favourite Bars’. There are many of them here; and I imagine that, after completing this recording, the Collective all went off to find another one. I’ll raise a glass to that; a joyous recording.