Camerata Berolinensis

Joseph Haydn: Divertimenti für Streichtrio Vol. I

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Joseph Haydn: Divertimenti für Streichtrio Vol. I Review

by James Manheim

The Camerata Berolinensis and director and first violinist Johannes Gebauer have released several discs of chamber music from the middle eighteenth century, each purporting to offer music worth hearing on its own terms, beyond its historical interest. They succeed in their aims here. Haydn's string trios, Gebauer argues, get a bad rap for several reasons and are rarely performed. One reason is the prevalence of the baryton trios from later in Haydn's career in the repertory; these are pretty thin stuff unless performed on the odd hurdy-gurdy-like instrument for which they were intended. Another is the seemingly rather bare instrumentation of the earlier trios: often two violins and cello, a sort of stripped-down Baroque trio sonata group. The Camerata Berolinensis blows through these objections with vigorous, sensitive performances of five trios, called divertimenti and composed around 1760 and explicitly designated by Haydn in his 1765 worklist as being for cello, not a basso continuo. These works are full of nice touches, and Gebauer correctly suggests that they deserve to be seen as more significant predecessors to the later string quartets than are the "serenade-like" early quartets themselves. Each trio has three movements, with the order not yet fixed, but the focus of the music is tight. The trios are full of original ideas, sophisticated and funny by turns. Consider the harmonic instability of the minor-key trio in the minuet of the Divertimento in G major, H. 5/20, recurring uneasily as a minor episode in the jocular Presto finale. Consider the unusual (for a work called a divertimento) dark color of the entire Divertimento in B minor, H. 5/3, or the big slow movement, twice the length of the opening movement, in the Divertimento in E flat major, H. 5/4. The musicians, playing period strings, bring out the structural details with varied, energetic performances that avoid the homogeneous sweetness still heard in many performances of early Haydn. Sound is subpar, with the overresonant walls of an empty Berlin church wreaking havoc with the violins' upper registers. But the disc is still a good choice for the listener getting to know the phases of Haydn's long career; his imaginative early music has rarely been so sympathetically interpreted.

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