The liner note with this disc quotes Prince Nicholas Esterhazy administering a rap over the knuckles to Kapellmeister Haydn for being laggardly in supplying him with more compositions for his cherished instrument the baryton. Making that particular demand of Haydn was like turning on a tap, and he went on to produce some 120 trios for baryton with viola and cello. For any not yet acquainted with this obsolete instrument, it was related to the viola da gamba, and featured a large (sometimes very large) set of strings vibrating in sympathy with the strings actually being played. It merges very smoothly with the two more successful instruments that go with it in baryton trios, at least as played by the Geringas trio and also by the Esterhazy trio, whose performance of six of these works graces my collection in a lavishly produced box containing two LP’s and a long and learned essay.
That gives me a yardstick to compare my new set. As I was expecting, the Geringas trio are easily the equal of the Esterhazy group, for many years the touchstone for quality of playing and authenticity of style. These two sets have two trios in common, the long (nearly 19 minutes) #97 with its 7 movements, and the late #113, slightly more adventurous in style than the others, but not featuring anything to over-tax the Prince, whose musical talent seems to have been fairly modest. There is very little to choose between the two recitals in terms of playing or sound-quality, but if forced to make a choice, I would go for the Geringas set because of some striking pizzicato sound in the first movement of #113.
It seems to me that this is music for the listener to relax with, not the sort of music calling for close scrutiny in the way that Haydn’s quartets call for that. The master would not, I’m sure, have objected to find these trios used as background music. Even without the listener’s critical faculties turned on at full power, the immediate sense given by these players is that there is going to be nothing but euphonious sound served up to us without so much as a possibility of mishaps or of anything even questionable. I doubt that the Prince’s audience could have relied on that.
The recorded sound (1990) is admirable, and I particularly like the sound of the baryton still resonating after a loud final chord has been played. I think one of the players may be a bit of a heavy breather, but I am used to much worse from, say, Rudolf Serkin in much more high-flown music than this. There is a liner-note that informs us who has done the translation but not who wrote the original text, nor in what language. The note is quite useful in what it says about the baryton, but verges on the unintelligible when it comes to the actual music, and even if that was a consequence of the translation the original author may feel that anonymity is doing him or her a favour. One small bonus needs mention – the very first track offers us the best tune of all, not by Haydn himself but none other than Gluck’s ever-blessed Che faro. There is not a lot of it, this disc, just 53 minutes or so, but 53 very agreeable and soothing minutes.