Haydn: Piano Trios, HobXV :6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Piano Trios, HobXV :6, 7, 8, 9, 10
PERFORMER: Trio 1790
CATALOGUE NO: 999 466-2
Less well served on disc than the symphonies and string quartets, Haydn’s 43 piano trios contain some of his most scintillating music. As with so much Haydn, their rehabilitation was due primarily to the musicological efforts of HC Robbins Landon. But it was the Beaux Arts Trio which brought them fully to life, and through its performances, recorded between 1971 and 1978 and available as a nine-CD set at bargain price, really endeared them to a wider franchise.

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As yet, few rivals have come near to toppling them from their throne of grace; so it’s good to welcome, if less than wholeheartedly, this not disagreeable CD of trios dating from 1784-5, played by the young German ensemble Trio 1790, initiating what promises to be only the second complete recorded edition and the first to employ period instruments.

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Listened to as a complement, rather than a rival, to the Beaux Arts set, there’s little about which to complain. These are stylish, thoughtful readings, a little rough in places, but musically perceptive and not without wit, if a tad laboured. Direct comparison with the Beaux Arts, however, is likely to confirm prejudices. The fortepiano sounds frankly dull, and the string playing is markedly less polished, sometimes to the detriment of intonation. And simply as interpreters, regardless of the types of instrument played, the Beaux Arts players find so much more in the music: though the keyboard may dominate Haydn’s trio writing, the Beaux Arts strings miss no opportunity for fuller, proactive participation; and their sheer unalloyed delight in music-making has yet to be surpassed. Antony Bye