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Reviews: Haydn: The Private Pleasure of Prince Esterházy - Finnish Baryton Trio

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Reviews: 1

Review by Beagle April 15, 2010 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
“Period instruments or just a baryton with a modernised violin and cello?”

I can now confidently answer Osbert Parsley’s question: Period. Markus Kuikka plays a baryton made by Tolman Muthesius in 2001, replicating an 18th century instrument by the ubiquitous Anon., now in the Bruxelles Conservatory. Markus Sarantola plays a viola made by Willibrord Crijnen in 1944, replicating a Crancino. Jussi Seppänen plays a cello made by Anon. circa 1700.

Prince Nikolaus Esterházy obviously had excellent taste (he hired Haydn), and his choice of personal instrument was not mere aristocratic quirkiness. The baryton is a beautiful instrument, physically and musically. A middling viol with sloping shoulders and an ornate figure-head on the scroll, his had seven bowed strings in the usual place (tuned A-D-G-c-e-a-d), plus ten ‘sympathetic’ strings plucked or independently resonating below the extended fret-board. Sympathetic resonance is essential to most if not all instruments (think of piano pedal and open string bowing), so the under-stringing of the baryton was a laudable musical choice. Its eventual fall from popularity was aided if not driven by its difficulty of playing – by royal amateurs or virtuosi.

Unlike the violin or the flute, the baryton is not a prima donna soprano whose voice soars above an orchestra. Its beauty is best enjoyed in the setting Haydn gave it in his 126 Trios for Viola, Cello & Bass – i.e. supporting role: like a leg on a three-legged stool, it is a pillar of strength among its peers. I think it speaks well of Prince Nikolaus’ personality that he did not play the flute…. I also bought Haydn: Divertimenti - Combattimento Consort Amsterdam for the sake of the baryton: pleasant music but the baryton is virtually inaudible – so I am very grateful for this disc from the Suomalaiset. Kiitos!

The sound is beautifully warmed with overtones but not too resonant (for my taste). Ensemble so good, and tessitura so similar, that it is hard to focus on individual instruments; to quote the booklet "When the register of the viola is kept near that of the baryton, the instruments produce a homogeneous ensemble in which the sounds nearly blend together" (but I think it is viola to the left, baryton centre-rear, cello to the right, in a close triangle centre-stage). I see a DXD logo on the jewelbox, the hi-definition editing format I associate only with the 2L label; do only scandinavians use Digital eXtreme Definition?

The playing is hypnotic or sprightly as the music requires and, as mentioned, with exquisite ensemble (perhaps aided by what I hear as head-to-head seating). True, there is one zzzing of a finger whipping down a wound string, but that just guarantees the authenticity of the event. The general effect is an in-their-element familiarity with the music that banishes all shadows of artificiality or archaism.

I find the music surprisingly familiar to my ears also. Granted I have several of these pieces on CD (nos. 63 & 87), but I strongly suspect that I seem to know it because Haydn used some of its folk material somewhere in his quartets, e.g. the tune anglophones know as 'Fare thee well, my pretty maiden'. The author of the booklet hears the tune 'Are you the O'Reilly who runs this hotel?' which Haydn used in a minuet... there may be more.

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