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Without Parallel

Haydn's late
piano trios -

'... stylish and impeccable.'

Haydn Piano Trios Volume 2. © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Plodding wearily through the book of Leviticus at the moment, and thoroughly disenchanted with its God, I can think only of a Cleopatra and her infinite variety; and that is precisely Haydn's quality, however different their morals. His ability to astonish, surprise, enchant, mesmerise, and occasionally gobsmack is musically without parallel. Beethoven can start his First Symphony with a chord that has no right to be there; Wagner's initial Tristan chord remains a shocker; and even Schoenberg, relentlessly pursuing the cerebrations of Moses and Aaron to a conclusion that did not materialise -- all three composers followed superbly the logic of their daring. Haydn respects no logic except that of his own musical fancy and caprice.

So Haydn's sonata form, like that elusive Proteus with his pack of seals, 'will assume all manner of shapes', and it is a matter of endless delight to track what he is up to. These are among Haydn's very last trios, and both the first two were written in London for Therese Jansen, a star keyboard pupil of Clementi's, at whose wedding Haydn was a witness. The Hoboken catalogue numbers of the CD are supplemented above by the conjectures of the more recent Robbins Landon edition, which has increased the number of trios by an additional fourteen. Perhaps the most original movement of Therese's six is the mysterious Allegretto of No 28. But it is even more fascinating to hear what implications Haydn draws from the opening of a work.

Listen -- Allegro moderato (Landon 44 in E, H XV:28)
(track 1, 0:03-2:12) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

In trio No 30, which some would consider Haydn's last despite Hoboken and Landon, the Andante con moto has a poise and elegance Haydn could always command in the midst of the most spirited japes.

Listen -- Andante con moto (Landon 42 in E flat, H XV:30)
(track 8, 0:00-1:14) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

Indeed the finale of No 31 was originally entitled 'Jacob's dream', referring playfully to the angels ascending their ladder to the heights rather than to any rash territorial promises God might have made to the sleeper. Haydn was teasing a German violinist he had become acquainted with in London, whose delight it was to attempt the highest positions without quite the technique to do so successfully. So Haydn sent the trio to Therese with instructions to try it out on the German. The result was anything but angelic.

Listen -- Allegro (Landon 41 in E flat minor, H XV:31)
(track 11, 0:00-1:09) © 2009 Hyperion Records Ltd

By contrast, the Florestan team is stylish and impeccable.

Copyright © 12 December 2009 Robert Anderson,
Cairo, Egypt





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