Gypsy Music?

by Glenn on August 3, 2014

CD Liner Notes for Vienna Piano Trio: Haydn Piano Trios

Haydn: Piano Trios Hob.XV: Nos. 18, 24, 29, & 25 “Gypsy”

I got in the car the other day and turned to 89.1, Portland’s local classical station. Playing was the most delightful piece for piano trio. It had the qualities of Haydn but there was this folk element—”Is that gypsy music?”

Sure enough, when it was over, which was way too soon, the radio host announced we had just heard  the Piano Trio in G major Hob.XV: 25 “Gypsy” by Joseph Haydn. On a visit to Music Millennium I checked the used section and found a performance by the Vienna Piano Trio, which I listened to last week.

Near the end of the opening movement of that G major piano trio is a wonderful moment where the violin and piano each take a turn carrying the piece. Success with a chamber work like this means each player has to know when to be out front and when to stay back. What is striking about this group (whose current membership is different from the one that made this recording) is the obvious competence of each member (Wolfgang Redik, violin; Marcus Trefny, ‘cello; and Stefan Mendl, piano) matched by an equal amount of selflessness.

The last movement really show off the piano and violin to great effect. The music and playing is crisp, clean, and joyful. This is the movement with the gypsy music. I love classical music that includes folk elements. High art with a rustic, unaffected quality.

There are three other Haydn piano trios included on this 60-minute recording, Nos. 18, 24, and 29. They are all lovely, although I didn’t hear any other folk tunes.

Haydn writes beautifully arched and proportioned melodies and handles them marvelously. The middle movement of No. 29 begins with piano alone, then the violin takes over with cello and piano in accompaniment. It is sublime.

Then there is Haydn’s humor. You hear it best in the 3rd movement of No. 18. The music dances joyfully as Haydn winks at his listeners.

The essence of chamber music for me is its conversational nature. Haydn is a master and these string trios are an exemplar. The Vienna Piano Trio own the convention.

One weak moment for me was the middle movement of No. 24. It’s written in minor and comes across as formulaic. It fits logically between and flows seamlessly from and to the other movements, but it’s the one moment in this recording where the form appears more important than the music. You can’t hear the music because Haydn is shouting, “Now, listen as I transform what you heard in the first movement and place it in a minor form.” It’s played well, but this movement is the musical equivalent of a tract home.

Nevertheless, this is now a new favorite recording of mine (I’ve gone back to it a couple of times already). The playing is phenomenal and the music is ideal for a quiet evening when you’re not quite able to endure the weight of a Mahler symphony.

There was something soul-enriching about listening to this recording, perhaps the serendipitous feeling  of discovering charming music that was new to me from an unfamiliar genre (I am a large scale—late-/post-Romantic—orchestra sort of guy) played by outstanding performers.