Various Artists

Michael Haydn: Chamber Music for Flute, Horn and Strings

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The music of Michael Haydn is less well known than that of his older brother Franz Joseph, but it shares some of its characteristics: it's invariably well-crafted, elegant, and charming. Michael's music, though, is less likely to push at the boundaries of the conventions of the day and doesn't have the same emotional range, either the profundity or the loopy humor of his brother's best work. These four chamber works for strings and winds are models of Classical charm and grace and should appeal to listeners who are fans of light music of the era. One of the attractions of this album is the eccentricity of the instrumental combinations in some of the pieces. Two are for flute quartet (flute, violin, viola, and cello), a standard grouping that was basically a variation on the string quartet. Odder, but still close to the range of normal, is the Divertimento in G major for flute, horn, violin, viola, and cello. Truly eccentric in instrumentation, if not in musical content, is the Divertimento in D major for horn, viola, and violone, a forerunner of the modern contrabass, which takes the part here. The use of horn in such a small ensemble was not at all usual for the period, but the sound of the contrabass, playing an octave lower than the cello that would be the predictable instrument, is what makes this work leap out. This may or may not be the only piece ever written for the combination, but in any case, its bizarre sonorities are attention-grabbing, and after a moment of adjustment, not unpleasant. The performers all play with consummate elegance, style, and easy confidence. Camerata's sound is clean, detailed, and nicely balanced.

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