Piano Trios: in C,
Hob XV/21; in E♭,
Kungsbacka Pn Tr
NAXOS 8572063 (73: 43)
This is Volume 3 of the Kungsbacka’s Haydn piano trio cycle, a survey I’ve been following with great pleasure. As mentioned in my review of the ensemble’s previous release in issue 36: 2, having reached the last four trios in Volume 2—the Nos. 42–45—the Kungsbacka’s only way forward was backwards, and indeed that’s where things head in the current release, but not, of course, in matters of performance. The numbers and dates associated with the Hoboken catalog entries of the trios heard here are 35 (XV/21), 36 (XV/22), and 37 (XV/23)—all three composed in 1794—and 27 (XV/14), composed in 1790.
If Haydn’s earliest piano trios date to around 1765 and his latest to 1797, then the four works on the present disc may still be considered among his later efforts, but as one travels back in time, the composer’s musical content seems of somewhat less sophisticated character, and the independence of voices seems less advanced.
This is particularly noticeable right off the bat in the C-Major Trio. To be sure, the first movement is informed by Haydn’s irrepressible high spirits, but the thematic material and unison writing have about them a predictable simplicity and banality that could well serve as a nursery tune couplet. The slow movement shows a good deal more promise with some striking modulations and turns to the minor key, but the excursions are tentative and not sustained.
Very few of the trios, even from the last few, have more than three movements, and that’s true of the ones at hand, but at least by now, Haydn has settled on an
for the middle movement, while some of the earlier trios have a minuet-and-trio in place of a slow movement. Minor-key trios are also an exception; out of 45 trios, I count only eight in minor keys, one of which—No. 41 (XV/31)—is in the highly unusual key for strings of E♭-Minor, which leads me to wonder if it wasn’t originally a work for solo keyboard. Some sources attribute the nickname “Jacob’s Dream” to the piece. With a key signature of six flats, for the violin and cello, it would be more like “Jacob’s Nightmare.”
In any case, one of those eight minor-key trios, No. 37 (XV/23) in D Minor, is on this disc, and it’s not just its minor key that distinguishes it but the fact that its first movement is a double theme and variations form, in which a first theme in D Minor is given with both halves repeated, followed by a theme in D Major with both halves repeated. The variations then proceed in alternating major and minor pairs.
Musically, these may not be among Haydn’s most memorable piano trios, but the Kungsbacka’s playing continues to demonstrate the highest level of technical achievement and interpretive sensitivity to the style of the period. For Haydn’s trios on modern instruments, you will do no better than the Kungsbacka Piano Trio, and when you consider Naxos’s budget price, the ensemble’s ongoing Haydn cycle is a no-brainer. Plus, it promises, when complete, to be more complete than the still very worthy “complete” Beaux Arts’ 43-trio survey.
Very strongly recommended.