These Haydn divertimenti of 1784 are generally performed by the combination of two violins and a cello, the preferred forces specified on the original score Haydn sent to a publisher. He apparently wrote "or flute" as an option for one of the violin parts at the last minute. Some have attributed the move to purely commercial considerations, but the booklet for this disc makes a good case that he had the flute option in mind all along (one of the violin parts uses no double stops, and there are several subtler considerations). At any rate, they are enjoyable examples of the everyday sort of chamber music Haydn produced in such profusion. Each work is in three movements, but the sequence of the three is never the same. All the works are short, with none longer than 10 minutes in total and several of the individual movements barely over a minute. Within these constraints, Haydn's characteristic sonata forms are condensed into simple binary structures. Sometimes he abandons those in favor of sharp, basic contrasts -- hear the finale of the second divertimento (track 6), with its unusual shift to triple meter for its middle section. These are not exactly typical Haydn works; his sense of humor needs the expectations generated within larger forms to really click. But they are full of unexpected pleasures -- check out the Adagio of the sixth divertimento (track 17), a miniature that represents one of Haydn's few excursions into a mood of real pathos, or the unusually early Scherzo (track 11) movement in the fourth divertimento. The cello is given plenty to do, and music students or chamber players may enjoy getting to know these technically uncomplicated works. As usual with the German label MDG (even with the early 1990 date of this recording), the biggest pleasures are sonic: the recording in the Neumarkt Reitstadel, an exhibition hall that served previously as an armory and indoor horseback riding arena, has a lovely quality for chamber music, spacious but not reverberant, resulting in music that hangs sweetly in the background of the listener's consciousness. A drawback: the disc is short at 48 minutes. Several of these works have links to other Haydn pieces, which could easily have been included for a fuller program.
Haydn: Divertimenti for flute, violin and violoncello Review
by James Manheim