Notes and Editorial Reviews
Haydn Tr Eisenstadt
PHOENIX 161 (8 CDs: 583.49)
These are elegant, suave performances of some of Haydn’s loveliest music. The piano trios lack the backbone and structure of his symphonies and string quartets, and that difference is emphasized here, for better and for worse: we are enveloped by charm and beauty, but at a cost in spirit and élan. Is this making the most of the music’s inherent qualities, or does it short-change us by moving even
farther from Haydn’s essential character? Each of us must decide this for her or himself. I find that individual movements can be mesmerizing—the long opening Andante of the E? Trio, Hob XV:31, is gorgeous beyond words—but seldom is an entire trio as satisfying. The “complete set” phenomenon comes into play here: each trio should be heard by itself, in isolation, but the reviewer’s duty is to hear everything, and I found myself liking these performances more and more as I proceeded through them over the course of a few days. Each of these discs mixes early, middle, and late trios, but the Eisenstadt does not distinguish each era as clearly as have some other (usually period-instrument) performances. For the record, the 1760 Trios are Hob XV: 1 and 3441; the 1780s works are Hob XV:5–17; the so-called “London” Trios of the mid 1790s are Hob XV:18–32 (No. 30 was written after he returned to Vienna).
The playing by all (Harald Kosik, piano; Verena Stourzh, violin; Hannes Gradwohl, cello) is expert and effortless. Kosik’s Steinway D is warm and brilliant, but he holds it within reasonable 18th-century bounds. The overall results are similar to those of the Beaux Arts Trio, although the Eisenstadt usually chooses more relaxed tempos for Allegros (their Vivaces and Prestos are fully up to pace); both groups ignore a repeat here and there, which may be a matter of the scores they follow. The apparent ease of these performances may contribute to the sense that a few movements succumb to routine, as the pearly tones roll along. The (studio) recordings, made during the annual Haydn Festspiele Eisentstadt from 1998 to 2007 in the now familiar Haydnsaal of Schloss Esterházy, reflect that hall’s lovely acoustic, including its excess reverberance, which is at times too much for the piano. Nevertheless, the instruments have a more distinct presence than those in the admirable 1970s Philips recordings of the Beaux Arts. That group put 43 trios (in as close to chronological order as was then known) on nine CDs. Some have fallen victim to the authenticity mavens; the Eisenstadt plays 39 trios on these eight CDs. The (period instruments) Van Swieten Trio spread 40 trios and one additional piece across 10 CDs in Brilliant Classics’s recent, 150-CD Haydn Edition (
32:4). The Eisenstadt Trio also contributed to that set, backing two vocalists in 18 discs of Scottish and Welsh songs. Phoenix Edition includes a generous 68-page booklet that discusses each and every trio in some detail, all in German, English, and French.
Despite the Eisenstadt’s occasional lack of élan, I am captured by the charm and friendliness of its performances. If you are looking for a modern-instrument set of Haydn piano trios, I recommend this one, which may be found on the Internet for about four dollars a disc. If you already love the Beaux Arts, however, you might miss that group’s high spirits and its convincing spontaneity.
FANFARE: James H. North
During this Haydn bicentenary there will be many reissues and new releases, but I can think of no better way of commemorating the great man than this marvellous set of Piano Trios from the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt (HTE). They play this music as if it had been made for them and this is a set I will enjoy again and again.
The Piano Trio has always struck me as something of an odd-one-out genre: one step up from a sonata, but without the strength of a quartet or quintet. Wisely, the HTE make no attempt to justify the genre: they just revel in what is marvellously written music. The blend among these three young players is extraordinary. As with the best chamber performers one can sense them all moving to the same pulse, breathing and playing as one. They inhabit every nuance of Haydn’s drama, poignancy, pathos, humour and sheer love of life. Not once is there even a hint of a soloist going for glory; instead there is mutual support, warmth and affection for this intimate musical feast.
My only question is why this music is not better known? The trios contain all of the greatness that Haydn made evident in his larger-scale works, only on a more intimate scale. All human life is here in these works. One can find endless things to marvel at, such as the majestic opening of No. 27 in, or the strident drama of No. 19 (in G minor) or No. 12 (in E minor), both of which lead to profoundly beautiful slow movements. Or how about No. 37 in F which has a first movement full of gentle restraint which then explodes into life in its allegro second movement? There is the pregnant expectation of the first movement of No. 6 in F, or the quite majesty of No. 29 in E flat. I could go on, but there’s no need to. The riches here just go on and on.
The wonderful thing about having the complete trios together in one set is that one can not only chart the composer’s development in the genre, but also feel the phases that he moves through. The booklet notes are excellent in this regard: they explain clearly the three main periods in which Haydn wrote Piano Trios and they enable the listener to sample how he develops in each. Furthermore, nearly ever trio has its own little commentary thus guiding the listener through it, if he wants.
I’m told, by those in the know, that the Beaux Arts Trio’s survey of this music is well nigh untouchable. I can’t compare them as I haven’t heard the Beaux Arts, but one definite thing in favour of the HTE set is its bargain price which is very attractive and invites the listener to explore more readily than might otherwise have been the case.
There is little point in saying more about this marvellous release. This is delightful music, delightfully played, and anyone who loves good music should buy it for the endless pleasure it will give.
-- Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International
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