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Haydn: Divertimenti / Vriend, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

Haydn / Combattimento Consort Amsterdam / Vriend
Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72345  
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

These divertimenti with baryton are musical entertainment of high calibre - the ensemble gives spiritual and technically brilliant performances.

The title of this disc simply says "Divertimenti", but the programme specifically concentrates on music for an instrument which is associated with Haydn as with no other composer: the baryton. If he hadn't written so much music for this instrument it may well have been completely forgotten. But as his employer, Nikolaus I Esterházy, was a devoted player of the instrument, Haydn composed more than 160 pieces for him to play.

Leopold Mozart gave this description of the instrument in his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (1756):
Read more "This instrument has, like the gamba, six or seven strings. The neck is very wide, with the back surface hollowed out and open, under which run nine or ten brass and steel strings. These are plucked with the thumb, so that in fact whilst the main melodic line is played with the bow on the gut strings strung on the front of the instrument, the thumb simultaneously plays the bass line by plucking the strings under the neck. It is for this reason that the pieces need to be specifically composed. It is, incidentally, one of the most graceful instruments." The German composer and author Friedrich August Weber (1753-1806) described the sound as a combination of viola da gamba and harp and wrote that its sound moved him to tears.

At first Haydn only reluctantly composed music for the baryton, mainly because he wasn't familiar with it. When his employer urged him to write more, he decided to study the instrument in order to get acquainted with it. He discovered that Nikolaus was wrong in stating that only one tonality could be used. After thoroughly examining the possibilities he reported to Nikolaus that it was perfectly possible to compose in more keys. As the gambist and baryton player José Vázquez told his audience during a concert, "the Prince was not amused".

By all accounts Nikolaus' abilities were limited and Haydn took this into consideration. That is noticeable in the four compositions recorded here by the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam. The three Divertimenti à 8, also known as Octets, were originally written for baryton, two violins, viola, cello, double bass and two horns. But most of them were published in a version in which the baryton part was replaced by the transverse flute, and as not all original versions have been preserved some reconstruction has had to take place.

On this disc the Octet in G (H X,5) is played as it was printed, with a flute instead of the baryton. Here the trick Haydn used to make things easier for his employer is most noticeable: the flute (baryton) mostly plays unisono with one of the other instruments. If there are any solo passages for the baryton in these works, they are mostly rather easy. One of the characteristics of the baryton, the possibility to bow and pluck the strings simultaneously, is completely avoided. A performer can do it nevertheless, as a kind of 'ornamentation', but this is not applied here. Considering the scoring of the three octets this seems quite justifiable.

In the Octets the two horns play a remarkable role. Although they are mostly used to support the ensemble and add some colour to it these parts are often quite virtuosic and the horn players are given the opportunity to show off now and then. This reflects the quality of the Esterházy orchestra, whose best players were probably involved in the performance of the Octets.

A special case is the Quintet as it is called here. It is one of two Divertimenti à 5, of which only the one played here has been preserved. It is scored for baryton, viola, bass (here played by cello and double bass) and two horns. It contains hardly any solo passages for any of the instruments, unlike the Octets. It is a typical divertimento with its sequence of a slow movement, followed by a fast movement and closed by a menuet. The Octets show greater variety in this respect: the Octets H X, 1 and 12 begin with a moderate movement - moderato and allegro moderato respectively -, which is followed by an adagio, whereas the last movement is a presto. The Octet in G (H X,5) follows the pattern of the Quintet, but the last movement is another presto instead of a menuet.

Haydn's music with baryton belongs to the category of musical entertainment. But we should be aware that this was very different from what in our time is considered musical entertainment. In the hands of composers like Haydn and Mozart this kind of music is anything but simple and easy. Haydn's divertimenti are music of high calibre; anything less would have been an insult to Haydn's employer. Therefore, if played well they are still able to captivate and at the same time entertain the modern listener. That is certainly the case here, as the Combattimento Consort gives spiritual and technically brilliant performances of these four divertimentos.

The ensemble plays modern instruments but in its interpretation it follows the principles of historical performance practice. I have heard it many times on the radio in concert registrations, and I have often noticed that it applies these principles more radically than some period instrument ensembles. The strings play virtually without vibrato which guarantees a very transparent sound, and the interpretation is very gestural and dramatic by emphasizing contrasts in colour and dynamics. The baryton is very well played here by Freek Borstlap who has his own baryton trio, and is fully integrated in the ensemble.

The complete works with baryton by Haydn have been recorded for Brilliant Classics on period instruments by the Esterházy Ensemble, but I can imagine that some may find this a little too much of a good thing. For them this is an excellent way to get acquainted with the instrument and Haydn's music for it. I wouldn't be surprised if listening to this disc led them to buy the complete set anyway.

-- Johan van Veen, MusicWeb International


HAYDN Octet in G , Hob X:12. Quintet in D , Hob X:10. Octet in G , Hob X:5. Octet in D , Hob X:1 Jan Willem de Vriend, cond; Combattimento Consort Amsterdam CHALLENGE CC72345 (SACD: 59:18)

Titled Haydn Divertimenti , this disc presents nearly half of Hoboken X, devoted to works for baryton, horns in pairs, and strings in various combinations. My (old) New Grove Haydn lists 10 of the Nos. 1 through 12. No. 9, not in this collection, features two barytons. The notes to this disc do not list the exact instrumentations; the octets are for two horns, two violins, baryton, viola, cello, and violone (here played by a double bass); the quintet is for two horns, baryton, viola, and bass. This performance of No. 5 replaces the baryton with a flute, as a second publication did—to the music’s loss, as the twangy, chewy sound of the baryton enlivens the string ensemble. Each work is in three movements, varying fast and slow sequences from Adagio to Presto.

The Combattimento Consort of Amsterdam is a swinging period-instrument group, and swing is what it makes this music do, even to suggesting American country-fiddle music. Jan Willem de Vriend conducts from the first-violin desk; Freek Borstlap plays the baryton. Everyone plays with gusto and joy; the ensemble’s vitality can be felt even in the slowest adagio . The notes refer to the virtuoso horn parts, but that shows up primarily in the quintet, where they are 40 percent of the ensemble. In the octets they are used mostly for support, making the woodwind-free ensemble sound quite symphonic.

The recorded sound, from a small, ancient (1409) church in Amsterdam, is reverberant yet intimate, just right for this music. One can listen for each instrument or for the ensemble. The two-channel SACD layer smooths the sound too much, diluting some of the vitality. Surround sound puts it back, but (oddly) sacrifices individual instruments in favor of the overall sonority. I prefer just plain CD for this disc.

We’ve had so many repetitions of Haydn’s more formal works (sonatas, string quartets, symphonies) during the 2009 “Haydn year”; it’s a delight to hear something else. These pieces may lack his marvelous sense of structure and development, but they are suffused with the full measure of his charm. Haydn has never sounded quite like this; it’s so much fun that it must be right. I’ve noted before that performance styles go in fads; may this be the next one.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Divertimento for Baryton, 2 Horns and Strings in G major, H 10 no 12 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1775; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
Divertimento for Baryton, 2 Horns and Strings in D major, H 10 no 10 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: circa 1767/1768; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
Divertimento for Baryton, 2 Horns and Strings in G major, H 10 no 5 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: 1775; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
Divertimento for Baryton, 2 Horns and Strings in D major, H 10 no 1 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Conductor:  Jan Willem de Vriend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Combattimento Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: 1775; Eszterhazá, Hungary 

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