Haydn: Divertimenti, Hob. X:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 & 12

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LABELS: Ricercar
WORKS: Divertimenti, Hob. X:1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10 & 12
PERFORMER: Ricercar Consort
CATALOGUE NO: RIC 206 Reissue (1989-91)
Haydn’s patron, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, developed a curious obsession for the baryton, an exotic kind of viola da gamba with vibrating sympathetic strings. The composer duly turned out reams of music for the prince to perform. And these octets for horns and strings of 1775 are probably his swansong for an instrument that would soon become obsolete. Haydn obviously took care not to stretch the royal technique here: in fact, the baryton does little more than double violin or viola and add its intriguing buzzy resonance to the textures. Quicker movements tend to be slight and perky, occasionally enlivened by spectacular antics from the horns. But the adagios, many of them in the minor key, are often surprisingly intense and un-divertimento-like. Performances, if sometimes a touch laid-back, are neatly shaped and sensitively balanced, with expert contributions from horns and baryton. Richard Wigmore