Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Haydn - Complete Baryton Trios - Esterhazy Ensemble

Rating: 4/5

Charming, but...

Haydn wrote a very significant amount of music for the baryton which is seldom performed today. The baryton is now an obsolete instrument which is rather like a viola da gamba but with strings set into the back of its neck which were played with the thumb. It has an echoing, somewhat gamba-like quality and it is fascinating and enjoyable to listen to when it is played as well as it is here by Michael Brünning.

Haydn's employer, Nikolaus Esterhazy, was a keen but not very talented player so at his instruction Haydn continually composed new trios for the instrument, which do have real grace and charm. There are 126 of them, though, which is an awful lot of trios - especially when written for a limited player by a somewhat reluctant composer. Haydn was incapable of writing poor or dull music, but these works seem to me to lack the real inventive flair and variety of much of Haydn's other chamber music, much of which is among the greatest music ever written. I confess that I have not yet listened to every one of these discs, but I am working through them and although I love Haydn's music, I am not sure that I really need 21 whole discs of baryton trios. It's not that there's anything wrong with this set: it's enjoyable music which is very well performed, well recorded and nicely presented, it's just that I don't think it's among Haydn's best work.

I would have no hesitation in recommending a 21-disc set of the String Quartets (I own and love the Angeles Quartet's fantastic set) or large complete sets of the Piano Trios or Keyboard Sonatas because these are chamber works of real substance, endless variety and true genius in places. I can't say the same of the baryton trios - they are enjoyable pieces individually, but one or two CDs of them would do me quite nicely, I think, so I'm afraid I can't recommend this very large set unreservedly.

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