Haydn Piano Trios
This latest instalment in the series of Decca recordings deriving from Andras Schiff’s exhilarating annual chamber music festival at Mondsee, near Salzburg, features four of Haydn’s most inventive late keyboard trios, each one astonishing in its physical and intellectual energy, formal freedom and harmonic vision. The pianist is, of course, the motivating force in these works, above all in the C major Trio, No. 27, which contains the most virtuosic keyboard writing in all Haydn. Schiff and his colleagues relish the wit, brilliance and sheer speed of Haydn’s thoughts in the outer movements, with their comic off-beat accents, sudden changes of register and breathtaking harmonic scope. Rapid keyboard passagework is always imaginatively shaped and directed; and the pellucid, subtly coloured sonorities Schiff draws from his Bosendorfer are a constant source of delight. So, too, is the sharply etched cello of Boris Pergamenschikov, palpably relishing the mobility and vitality of Haydn’s bass-lines – so much for the old view that the cello parts in these trios are virtually dispensable. The Andante, in the third-related key of A major (a favourite harmonic gambit in late Haydn), is swifter and lighter than the more romantically inflected rival reading from the Beaux Arts (part of their nine-disc complete Philips set), with more of a siciliano lilt – though there is plenty of weight and intensity in the A minor central section which breaks in rudely on Haydn’s pastoral idyll.
Occasionally, in this movement and elsewhere, Yuuko Shiokawa’s tuning is slightly sour. And her phrasing of the soaring solo in the first movement of No. 31 (from 6'19'') is rather chilly, lacking the eloquence of the Beaux Arts’ Isidore Cohen. However, she takes her chances in the German dance-style finale, where keyboard virtuosity is balanced by an unusually elaborate, high lying violin part. Here Shiokawa and Schiff really strike sparks off each other; and sudden moments of poetry like the modulation to a remote B major (from 1'38'') are exquisitely handled. The far more riotous German dance that closes No. 29 (shades here of the boozy wine harvest in The Seasons) goes with a terrific fling, more abandoned and more pungently accented than the Beaux Arts’ version. I also preferred the simpler, more flowing approach of Schiff and his partners in the Andantino, who are surely truer to Haydn’s innocentemente marking than the soulful Beaux Arts.
In the A flat Trio, written a few years earlier than the others, in 1790, I specially admired the breadth and the range of colour Schiff brings to the first movement (marvellously sentient playing in the far-flung modulatory flights of the development) and the rhythmic buoyancy of the finale, where the players fully exploit the comic capital in Haydn’s teasing repeated-note upbeats, octave displacements and tonal sleights of hand. The cellist’s eager pointing of his tangy chromatic lines here is characteristic of his vivid contribution throughout this disc. Decca’s recording, made in Vienna’s Brahms Saal, is first-class – intimate and finely balanced, with just the right degree of ambient warmth; and there is an excellent note from Misha Donat. I hope this team will now go on to investigate more of Haydn’s magnificent but still absurdly neglected trios.'