Piano Trios Nos 5, 13, 26 & 39 by Joseph Haydn

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Piano Trios Nos 5, 13, 26 & 39
PERFORMER: Riccardo Minasi (violin), Federico Toffano (cello), Maxim Emelyanychev (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 88875178782

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Haydn composed well over 40 piano trios between his late twenties and mid sixties and the best of them contain some of the most adventurous, fancy-free invention in his entire output. If they remain less frequently performed than the string quartets, this is partly due to his relatively conservative concept of the medium: tending to lead with the keyboard and confining the violin to an obbligato role and the cello mostly to a continuo-like doubling of the keyboard left hand – a pretty redundant function if a sonorous modern piano is involved. Given a lighter-toned fortepiano, however, the cellist can sustain, inflect and colour the bass line in all sorts of ways – which is what Federico Toffano is evidently aiming to do in this new release.

Unfortunately, the somewhat cavernous recording acoustic tends to recess the cello and fortepiano timbres while simultaneously catching the edge of Riccardo Minasi’s vibrato-less period violin. The result is a less than ideally balanced texture that is also rather wearing on the ear. A pity, because these players have evidently thought hard about these pieces and bring a great deal of character and energy to their readings. Their wickedly over-the-top rendering of the ‘gypsy rondo’ of the relatively familiar late Piano Trio in G must be among the most electrifying on record. Their advocacy of the very early Trio No. 5 in G minor is especially valuable in revealing an already Haydn-esque concentration and quirkiness well in advance of the early quartets he was composing at the same time.

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Bayan Northcott