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Hyperion Records

CDA67719 - Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 1
The Gypsy Tent by William Shayer (1811-1892)
© Wolverhampton Art Gallery / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67719

Recording details: March 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2009
Total duration: 64 minutes 7 seconds

GRAMOPHONE RECOMMENDS
BBC RADIO 3 CD REVIEW DISC OF THE WEEK
BBC RADIO 3 BUILDING A LIBRARY CHOICE (SINGLE DISC)

'Tomes and her partners identify themselves fully with the emotional scale of the works … there is so much from the Florestan to stop us in our tracks … a very special disc, recorded in detailed, front-row sound' (Gramophone)

'These are altogether lively and alert performances, with repeats imaginatively varied, and a real feel for the subtle balance of the music' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Four of Haydn's later trios, including the familiar 'Gypsy Rondo', are played here by the Florestan Trio with a captivating grace' (The Observer)

'The articulation of Susan Tomes and her colleagues is alert and imaginative, with a 'period-instrument' feel for texture, effortlessly capturing Haydn's mercurial wit' (The Sunday Times)

'The Florestan is the ultimate in gentility and grace … the playing, interpretation, and recorded sound are perfection; every note, every phrase, every balance is beyond criticism' (Fanfare, USA)

'It is a pleasure to hear the Florestans strike their expected and convincing balance. They are a Haydnesque ensemble in the very best sense' (NewClassics.com)

'It would be hard to find crisper performances of Haydn's piano trios. The Florestan Trio is not a period instrument ensemble, but it never makes us wish it were, for these musicians don't play Haydn as if it were Beethoven or Schubert. The interpretations are articulate, stylish and vivid; accents spit and tingle; and passagework whizzes sharp and serrated as a saw blade. They take risks: some fast movements move at blistering speeds, and the exaggerated upbeats and shifts in tempo make their free-wheeling Gypsy Rondo sound like the real thing. Slow movements sing, and the balance—so crucial in these trios—is heavenly' (The Globe and Mail, Canada)

'This first volume in a projected series of the complete Haydn piano trios promises many future delights. The performances are, by and large, excellent … kudos particularly are in order for pianist Susan Tomes. These are keyboard works first and foremost, and she leads with great sensitivity and elegance' (ClassicsToday.com)

'What comes through vividly here is Haydn’s capacity to surprise; and the discovery of the music is in listening to them. Suffice it to say that the music’s essential grace, lightness and sparkle is affectionately captured by the members of The Florestan Trio, who are also alive to the musical and emotional diversions that Haydn imaginatively and wittily incorporates … with excellent recorded sound and an illuminating booklet note by Robert Philip, this release offers much joy' (ClassicalSource.com)

Piano Trios, Vol. 1
Allegro  [10'14]
Andante  [2'27]
Andante  [6'12]
Poco adagio  [4'15]
Allegro  [7'54]
Adagio cantabile  [3'26]
Allegro  [7'48]
Andante  [4'39]
Presto  [6'33]

Chamber music devotees will welcome with enthusiasm this first volume of a new series by one of the world’s greatest piano trios. Every recording by the award-winning Florestan Trio receives extravagant plaudits from the critical world and the public alike. Haydn’s piano trios are a uniquely important body of work in the classical spectrum and a detailed survey by this group is welcome indeed—especially in 2009, when the musical world will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death.

The piano trio form (where the piano took centre stage and was accompanied by a violin and a cello) was popular in domestic circles and many composers supplied the market. Haydn took the form beyond the domestic arena, and indeed poured into his accompanied sonatas as much inventiveness and range of musical expression as he did into his mature piano sonatas and string quartets. But the music requires a very different approach from the great piano trios of later composers. It requires a particular sensitivity to the shifting relationships between strings and piano, which Haydn exploits so subtly. When it receives it, these trios are revealed as works with a very special sense of unified, co-operative music-making, unlike anything else in the history of music.

Four such works from Haydn’s career are recorded here. Among them the Piano Trio in C major Hob XV:27 was written for one of Clementi’s finest pupils and the piano writing is suitably virtuosic. The delightful Piano Trio in G major was written while Haydn was at Eszterháza and revels in the Hungarian gyspy music which the composer heard at this time.


Other recommended albums
'Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1' (CDA67633)
Beethoven: Cello Sonatas, Vol. 1
'Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2' (CDA67572)
Dvořák: Piano Trios Nos 1 & 2
'Mendelssohn: The Piano Trios' (CDA67485)
Mendelssohn: The Piano Trios
'Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564' (CDA67556)
Mozart: Piano Trios K502,542,564
'Mozart: Piano Trios' (CDA67609)
Mozart: Piano Trios

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In a Viennese newspaper in 1789, there appeared the following notice: ‘Wanted by nobleman: a servant who plays the violin well and is able to accompany difficult piano sonatas.’ With this, we catch a tantalizing glimpse into a vanished world of domestic music-making. The importance of music in the home in the eighteenth century is difficult to grasp from the perspective of the twenty-first century. We are so used to having music on tap from our CDs and downloads that we easily forget that, in the days before recording, there was no opportunity to hear music unless one was in the presence of a musician, or made music oneself. Quite apart from this cultural amnesia, it is also difficult to get a clear idea of the music-making that used to go on in the great and small houses of Europe. Most domestic music-making went unreported, and we have to piece together evidence from letters, memoirs and newspapers. One major source of information about what was played in homes is the printed music that was published for domestic use. In the late eighteenth century there was a particularly healthy market in ‘accompanied sonatas’, works for pianists to play, with accompanying parts for a violin (sometimes two) and cello. This is a genre quite different from earlier chamber works, in which a violin and other melodic instruments would be accompanied by a harpsichord playing continuo from a bass line, filling in chords ad lib, sometimes with a cello or viol on the bass line.

The new emphasis on the keyboard instrument was given a boost by the rise of the piano. By the late eighteenth century, pianos were becoming very popular in well-to-do households of London, Paris and (a little later) Vienna. Ladies and gentlemen eagerly acquired the latest published works that they could play on the piano with their friends or servants accompanying them. The composers who supplied this market included Johann Schobert, Charles Avison, Ignaz Pleyel, Daniel Steibelt, and many others through to the early nineteenth century. Joseph Haydn is the only composer whose accompanied sonatas are still played regularly today, and for a very good reason: Haydn poured into his accompanied sonatas as much inventiveness and range of musical expression as he did into his mature piano sonatas and string quartets.

Haydn’s accompanied sonatas are today always referred to as ‘piano trios’. This is appropriate because of their musical quality, for which they stand comparison with later trios by Beethoven and others. But it also tends to obscure the real character of this music. In many of Haydn’s trios, as in the accompanied sonatas of his contemporaries, the violin and cello spend most of their time doubling the piano part, the violin occasionally playing counterpoints or answering phrases. It would be perfectly possible for some of the trios to be played as piano solos—and many accompanied sonatas were designed to be played in this way if there were no other instrumentalists available. But comparison of these ‘trios’ with later examples, in which all the parts are independent, has often led to this method of writing being thought of as deficient. In the early twentieth century Donald Tovey published arrangements of some of Haydn’s piano trios, in which he reapportioned the musical material so as to make the three instruments more independent from each other. Tovey’s view was that Haydn’s purpose in writing string parts that doubled the piano was to ‘place the works within the power of amateurs who might otherwise have been afraid of them’. Tovey saw himself as correcting this slavish adherence to convention, and clarifying Haydn’s writing. In this process, Haydn’s wonderful ‘freaks of imagination’ had been ‘revealed by my removal of the whitewash which Haydn has mechanically spread over them’. This now seems shocking, and what Tovey did would be regarded as vandalism. By contrast, Charles Rosen much more recently suggested that the cello and violin, far from just playing along with the piano, liberated Haydn from the limitations of the piano of his day, enabling him to achieve a spirit of improvisation which he rarely achieves in other works. Perhaps this also is a rather unfashionable opinion by now. On the whole the modern view is that period instruments were fit for the purpose of the time, and a great composer knew what he was doing. But as many of the households for which Haydn was writing would not have had the sonorous grand pianos we now know as fortepianos, but the smaller ‘square pianos’, Rosen certainly has a point.

So musicians of today are faced, in Haydn’s piano trios, with an unusual type of ensemble. The music requires a very different approach from the great piano trios of later composers. Whether played on period or modern instruments, it needs a particular sensitivity to the shifting relationships between strings and piano, which Haydn exploits so subtly. When it receives it, these trios are revealed as works with a very special sense of unified, co-operative music-making, unlike anything else in the history of music.

Robert Philip © 2009


Other albums in this series
'Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2' (CDA67757)
Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2
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