WORKS: Piano Trios, Vol. 3: Hob. XV:5, 18, 19 & 20
PERFORMER: Trio 1790
CATALOGUE NO: 999 468-2
This latest instalment in CPO’s period-instrument survey of Haydn’s trios again leaves mixed feelings. Though the string tone is distinctly astringent, the balance is well managed, with plenty of cello presence. Faster movements like the syncopated German-dance finale of No. 18 respond well enough to Trio 1790’s propulsive tempi and punchy accents. What I miss in these performances, though, is imaginative subtlety. Slow movements are brisk and inflexible, with over-stressed strong beats and too many swells from the violin on sustained notes. The group’s unyielding approach also damages a movement like the opening Allegro moderato of No. 18 — no hint here of the relaxed, almost improvisatory lyricism that is one of the hallmarks of Haydn’s late trios.
Using modern instruments, the French Wanderer Trio plays with far more allure and fantasy in four of the last and greatest trios. Slow movements are shaped with a natural grace and flexibility; and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Wanderer really goes for broke in the riotous finale of No. 27 and the famous ‘gypsy’ rondo, where the tempo fluctuations sound thoroughly idiomatic. I liked, too, the unusually positive contribution of the violinist, who obviously rejects the old canard that these are essentially accompanied keyboard sonatas. There is serious competition from the Beaux Arts (Philips) and, in Nos 27 and 29, András Schiff and friends (Decca), both of which offer even more subtle and scintillating pianism than the new disc. But in other respects, including their convincing choice of tempo in the passacaglia-like Allegretto of No. 28 (where the Beaux Arts is impossibly slow), the Wanderer more than holds its own in such company. Richard Wigmore