The music on these two discs falls into the category of entertainment. That suggests that it is all easy-listening stuff, but that is a mistake. The composer is none other than Haydn, and one can leave it to him to make the best of such pieces, and produce something which is well fit for repeated listening.
Two series of compositions have been recorded here. The first are eight Notturni which were originally written for an ensemble with two lire organizzate . As the repertoire for the baryton is almost exclusively due to Prince Esterházy’s lust for music to play on his favourite instrument, the music for lira organizzata is the result of the love of King Ferdinand IV of Naples for this instrument. He commissioned several composers to write for it, like Adalbert Gyrowetz and Ignaz Pleyel. It is a token of his wide-ranging reputation that Haydn received the commission to compose concertos for two lire organizzate from Ferdinand in 1786. Apparently the King liked them so much that he asked Haydn to compose more. This resulted in the Notturni , again scored for two lire organizzate . One of them was to be played by the King himself, the other by Norbert Hadrava, an Austrian diplomat who had developed the instrument especially for Ferdinand. The lira organizzata is a development of the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument which had always been popular in Naples. It was equipped with a small keyboard and a crank handle through which sounds were produced by the Flötenwerk (small organ pipes) and the Saitenwerk (sympathetic strings), which were tuned an octave apart. Unfortunately no specimen of this instrument has survived, and therefore it is impossible to play the music as it was written. When Haydn travelled to London in 1795 he took the concertos and Notturni with him, but in arrangements. The parts for the lire organizzate were set for either two transverse flutes or transverse flute and oboe. The original versions have not been preserved.
The Notturni all comprise three movements, with the exception of H II,25 which has four. In six of the Notturni the flute(s) and oboe are joined by two clarinets, two horns, two violas, cello and double bass. In the other two (H II,27 and 28) the clarinets are replaced by violins. The inclusion of clarinets is remarkable, since Haydn – unlike Mozart – never particularly favoured this instrument. Moreover, the chapel of the Esterházys had no clarinets whatsoever.
The rest of this set is filled with six Scherzandi which were probably written in 1761, the year Haydn took up his job as Vice-Kapellmeister in the service of Paul Anton I, Prince Esterházy. The title was invented by Breitkopf, the publisher who printed these pieces in 1765. In the catalogue of his own works Haydn called them ‘symphonies’. There are strong similarities between these six pieces. All are scored for transverse flute, two oboes, two horns, two violins and bass. The structure is also identical: they are all in four movements – allegro, menuet, adagio and presto. The trios of the menuets are solos for the transverse flute. The prestos are by far the shortest. Despite the many similarities Haydn achieves considerable variation in content. It seems that these pieces were intended as a sort of cycle. Anthony Hodgson, in his liner-notes, states that they can be divided into pairs each of which is characterised by the interval of a fifth: F – C, D – G, E – A.
The name of Haydn as the composer guarantees that this is not music which goes in one ear and out the other. It is surely also great stuff for musicians to play. That comes well to the fore here. The ensembles on the two discs are different. “The Jessop Haydn Ensemble was formed as a collaborative project between the Haydn Society of Great Britain and the University of Sheffield in 2012. It offers young prospective professional musicians the opportunity to develop their skills in aspects of 18th-century performance practice through recording and performance”, we read in the booklet. One cannot sufficiently appreciate such an initiative. It must be a great experience to have the opportunity to play this fine music by one of the greatest masters in music history. It is also understandable that the participants and also the people who support them would like to have a recording of their playing. However, I don’t think it was such a good idea to put it on disc for a wider market. There are just too many shortcomings, in ensemble and especially intonation. The fast movements from the Notturno in G (H II,27), for instance, are sometimes pretty painful. I wonder whether this recording does the participants in these performances any favours.
The programme of the second disc is played by the Trinity Haydn Ensemble which “was created in 2009 as part of a Haydn bicentennial collaborative project shared between members of Trinity College of Music and the Haydn Society of Great Britain”. There is no information about the players in the booklet, but some internet searching suggests that most of them were about to graduate or had already finished their studies at the time of the performances. These are of a different level in comparison with those on the first disc. Ensemble and intonation are much better, albeit not perfect. The performances also profit from a better recording.
All the players on these discs use modern instruments, but play more or less in period style. That clearly comes off better in the performances by the Trinity Haydn Ensemble. The Jessop Haydn Ensemble spend too much effort in playing the notes correctly and in tune. In all the pieces a harpsichord participates in the bass part. This seems a rather questionable practice. In Esterházy Haydn often did not use harpsichord in pieces for instrumental ensemble or full orchestra.
The music on these two discs is highly enjoyable and entertaining. However, considering the performance quality I doubt whether they are suitable for repeated listening. I would instead recommend a wonderful set with the Notturni and the Scherzandi and also the lira concertos and the ‘baryton octets’ performed by Haydn Sinfonietta Wien, directed by Manfred Huss. These offer the opportunity to hear this music in its full glory.
[*note from the label: we readily acknowledge the shortcomings of the student performance however as one other reviewer stated a certain amount of ‘homespun appeal’ suits this music and is most certainly closer to period authenticty perhaps!]. The CD certainly bears repeated and appreciated playing in our store and cafe.