Haydn: Keyboard Trio in A; Keyboard Trio in G minor, Hob. XV:18 & 19; Two Italian duets, Hob. XXVa; Andante with Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6; The Spirit’s Song; The Battle of the Nile

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: ASV Gaudeamus
WORKS: Keyboard Trio in A; Keyboard Trio in G minor, Hob. XV:18 & 19; Two Italian duets, Hob. XXVa; Andante with Variations in F minor, Hob. XVII:6; The Spirit’s Song; The Battle of the Nile
PERFORMER: Four Nations Ensemble; Ann Monoyios (soprano), Nils Brown (tenor)
CATALOGUE NO: CD GAU 219
This neatly concocted programme recreates an evening’s domestic music-making c1800, with a pair of late Haydn piano trios framing the tragic F minor Variations and assorted vocal items. Of these, ‘The Spirit’s Song’, written with an eye to the English taste for Gothic melancholy, is relatively familiar. But the other vocal works – the two pastoral Italian duets and the unashamedly jingoistic tribute to Lord Nelson, ‘Lines from the Battle of the Nile’ – have serious rarity value. All three are the most occasional of occasional pieces. Yet by the 1790s Haydn was incapable of writing routinely; and even these shavings from his workshop are full of shapely, echt-Haydn melody and sophisticated touches of craftsmanship.

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Using period instruments, Andrew Appel and his colleagues give pleasant, modest performances of the two trios. Their playing, though, sometimes lacks a firm rhythmic backbone (especially in the 6/8 finale of the G minor), while the sparse-toned strings are often unduly reticent – a familiar litany in this repertoire. Haydn’s violin and cello parts may be subordinate to the piano, but they add crucial colour and weight. Appel’s reading of the F minor Variations, though obviously carefully considered, tends to suffer from liberally – and to my ears indulgently – applied rubato that blurs the pulse and impedes momentum. Most successful here are the vocal numbers. Monoyios, chaste and crystalline of tone, rises to the mock-heroics of the ‘Nile’ cantata and nicely complements Brown’s personable lyric tenor in the Italian arias. Richard Wigmore