Haydn: Eight Notturni, Hob. II:25-32 (for the King of Naples)

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WORKS: Eight Notturni, Hob. II:25-32 (for the King of Naples)
PERFORMER: Marten Root (flute), Michael Niesemann (oboe)Mozzafiato, L’Archibudelli
This set of eight Notturni, written between 1788 and 1790, was commissioned on behalf of King Ferdinand IV of Naples. They are something of a historical curiosity in that their scoring reflects the king’s passion for the lira organizzata, a sophisticated version of the hurdy-gurdy popular in the streets of Naples. Unfortunately for us, the instrument seems to defy re-creation, and when the Notturni were revived in a series of London concerts in 1791, the lira parts were given, as on this disc, to a combination of flute and oboe. The scoring is otherwise for clarinets, horns and strings, making a total of nine or ten players. Despite the modest scale of the pieces, which are mostly in three short movements, Haydn typically exploits the intimate instrumentation to great effect – the doubling of clarinets and of violas and the lack of violins in the first six pieces make for a mellow sound and what HC Robbins Landon neatly describes as a ‘summery melancholy’. That, of course, is in the context of Haydn’s usual playfulness and inventive wit, which are expertly realised in the clear sounds and open textures of the players’ period instruments on this elegant and enjoyable recording. William Humphreys-Jones