Haydn: Piano Trio No. 42; Piano Trio No. 43; Piano Trio No. 44; Piano Trio No. 45, Hob. XV: 27-30

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Piano Trio No. 42; Piano Trio No. 43; Piano Trio No. 44; Piano Trio No. 45, Hob. XV: 27-30
PERFORMER: Robert Levin (fortepiano), Vera Beths (violin), Anner Bylsma (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: SK 53120 DDD
Without doubt, Haydn’s piano trios contain some of the most visionary keyboard writing of the late 18th century. Nearly 30 trios were composed between 1785 and 1797 alone; and yet this treasure-house of music dating from Haydn’s richest years remains all but unknown. The neglect is due largely to historical accident: to a certain extent, Haydn continued to cultivate the outmoded form of the accompanied keyboard sonata, with the two stringed instruments fulfilling subordinate roles. Nevertheless, their very presence seems to have inspired him to new heights. There is little in his output for solo piano that can compare in freedom and inventiveness with these astonishing works.

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This disc contains the last four trios, written two years before his oratorio The Creation. All but one of them were dedicated to Theresa Jansen – a Clementi pupil who must have been an outstanding pianist. The pianist here, Robert Levin, apparently improvised his discreet embellishments during the recording sessions, and there is a welcome feeling of spontaneity about the playing generally, with the repeats sounding creatively different.

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At times I could have wished for a more relaxed approach, as well as less literal reliance on the textual sources where such matters as phrasing and articulation are concerned (the inconsistency with regard to appoggiaturas in the slow movement of No. 44 is a case in point). A stimulating issue all the same, it deserves to have successors. Misha Donat