Classical CD Reviews
“The Heart of Invention: Piano Trios by HAYDN” = Piano Trio No. 25, Op. 75 No. 1; Piano Trio No. 26, Op. 75 No. 2; Piano Trio No. 24, Op. 73 No. 3; Piano Trio No. 22, Op. 73 No. 1 – Trio Goya – Chaconne
Published on October 10, 2010
“The Heart of Invention: Piano Trios by HAYDN” = Piano Trio No. 25, Op. 75 No. 1; Piano Trio No. 26, Op. 75 No. 2; Piano Trio No. 24, Op. 73 No. 3; Piano Trio No. 22, Op. 73 No. 1 – Trio Goya – Chaconne CHAN 0771 [Distr. by Naxos], 64:33 ***1/2:
These four trios from the years of Haydn’s second London sojourn (1794-1795) are among his finest in the medium. The first two were dedicated to Therese Jansen-Bartolozzi, a professional pianist and one of the best recitalists in England at the time. Thus Haydn didn’t shy from supplying a virtuoso piano part, especially in Trio No. 25 (Hob. XV:27). After Trio No. 23 (Hob. XV:25), with its famous rondo finale “In the Gypsies’ style,” this dashing work is probably Haydn’s most popular trio.
Trio No. 26 (Hob. XV:28) has its own charms, though, including an opening that features grace notes in the piano and pizzicato strings that seem to mimic a strummed instrument such as a guitar. Its most famous movement is the second, a spooky minor-key affair that was probably influenced by Haydn’s reaction to one of the hottest cultural fads of the day, the Gothic novel. Points to Trio Goya for resisting the temptation to pace the movement too slowly, as some trios do. The marking is Allegretto, and it sounds even more ghostly when taken at a true walking pace.
The other two trios on the disc were dedicated to Haydn’s piano student and possible lover, Rebecca Schroeter. Mrs. Schroeter apparently couldn’t resist musicians, having married her piano teacher, Johann Schroeter. When Haydn met her, she was an attractive widow of about forty, almost twenty years his junior. Later in life Haydn confessed that he would have married Mrs. Schroeter if he’d been free, but he was still locked into a horrendous marriage that lasted a grueling forty years, until his wife’s death in 1800. But that’s another story.
The trios that Haydn dedicated to Mrs. Schroeter, including the aforementioned “Gypsy” Trio, reflect her amateur skills at the keyboard. Trio No. 24 (Hob. XV:26) is in the rarely encountered key of F-sharp minor. Robert White, in his notes to the recording, points out this is the key of Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, “Farewell,” and White postulates that the tender but melancholy air of the outer movements marks this as Haydn’s farewell trio, since he subsequently took reluctant leave of Mrs. Schroeter and what might have been. Perhaps. Additional speculation surrounds the Adagio, which is identical to that in Haydn’s Symphony No. 102. Generally praised as Haydn’s greatest symphonic slow movement, it’s not known which came first: did Haydn include the movement in the trio because it was a favorite of Mrs. Schroeter’s, or did he recognize this beautiful movement’s orchestral possibilities and revisit it when he wrote the symphony?
In any event, this is all wonderful music that has been widely recorded, though not so often on original instruments. The only rival that I’m aware of is the Trio 1790 on CPO. Reviews that I’ve read have been only mildly enthusiastic, so the members of Trio Goya have the field largely to themselves. Their performances are carefully tailored to the character of each of these pieces, whether the bracingly virtuosic Trio No. 25, the somber No. 24, or the modest, cozily domestic No. 22. Though the performers bring a good deal of brio to No. 25, they also play the first movement with a surprising amount of loving rubato—maybe a shade too much. Also, while I’m taken with Maggie Cole’s finely shaded pianism, I’m not as enthusiastic about the sound of her instrument, a modern-made fortepiano modeled on one from 1790s Vienna. I find its sound kind of tinny and top-heavy. Given that the recording seems to favor the treble, the overall sound is a bit over-bright and edgy. This doesn’t detract entirely from the very fine performances, but it also doesn’t do them any favors.
On balance, I prefer modern-instrument performances of these trios, such as the near-perfect renditions by the Trio Wanderer on Harmonia mundi. That’s where I’d turn for my Haydn fix.
- Lee Passarella