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The baryton is a member of the gamba family and a relation to the modern-day cello dating from the early 17th century. It was quite a handful to play, having one manual with 6 or 7 bowed gut strings, and another with anything up to 20 further "sympathetically resonating" metal strings lying under the finger board. Haydn's profilic output for this instrument was the result of his patron - Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy I. The Prince was himself a skilful musician and the Baryton was his instrument of choice. With an insatiable appetite for new compositions for the instrument, the Prince commissioned 160 works from Haydn. Today 90% of these still survive, the 126 trios dating from 1762 - 1775 being the most important. The remarkable fact is that many of these trios resemble the greater paino trios - proof that Haydn lavished as much care on these "private" works as he did on his published ones. The Octets featuring Baryton include some virtuoso writing for wind, and the horns often reach stratospheric heights - a tribute to the virtuosity of the Esterhazy players Haydn had at his disposal. The represents the most comprehensive and only survey of Haydn's output for baryton on record, most works here receiving world premiere recordings.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : Yes
- Package Dimensions : 5.3 x 5.2 x 2.3 inches; 5.92 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Brilliant Classics
- Date First Available : March 14, 2009
- Label : Brilliant Classics
- ASIN : B001VO7O2Q
- Number of discs : 21
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The baryton is a cello-sized instrument but closer in playing technique to the viola da gamba than to the cello because of its seven or more gut strings and its frets along the neck. A masterful gamba player can use those frets much as a guitarist would, to play double-stopped and triple-stopped chords, yielding a kind of solo polyphony. But the baryton have even more polyphonic capabilities, since under the fretted neck there is another set of metal strings which the performer can pluck with his/her thumb. The metal strings have a dual function in the character of the baryton; they are open at all times, so that even when they are not plucked, they resonate sympathetically with the bowed notes of the gut strings. Sound challenging? Haydn himself found it so. Apparently he spent six months teaching himself to play the instrument to his own satisfaction, and it seems he became quite enamored of its distinctive resonance as well as its unique capacities for multi-voicing, i.e. polyphony. There's an old musicological notion that Haydn was compelled to write endless trios, reluctantly, for this absurd instrument, at the whim of his patron Prince Esterhazy, who was a musical duffer. Well, as I said, don't be so sure of any of that!
This pioneering performance of the baryton trios was not and is not the final word. Thirty years ago, we all would have congratulated Riki Gerardy without any hesitation over matters of interpretation. The Esterhazy Trio performed these works in a stately, aristocratic, galante fashion, so that they all sounded much alike, and much as 'we' imagined the stuffy duffer Prince would have played them. Limited, in short. Recreational. On the boring side, especially over 21 CDs worth.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with these performances, except that they lack 'interpretation'. The Esterhazy Trio was almost flawless in intonation and ensemble. No rushing, no dragging, etc. However, there's more to be discovered in these pieces than the merely competent structuring of notes. Lacking spirited, individualized interpretation and affect, one can hardly deny that the trios all do sound much-of-a-muchness, and that 21 CDs are more than sufficient.
Luckily you and I, amici miei, have lived long enough to hear the baryton and its repertoire (chiefly by Haydn) carried beyond mere correctness. The baryton technique achieved by virtuoso gambist Guido Balestracci is expressive enough to require a re-evaluation of the the trios as a major portion of Haydn's vast oeuvre:
What will you hear in Balestracci's playing that you don't hear in Gerardy's? Balestracci shapes his notes and thus shapes his phrases. He varies the timbres of his bowed strings, and graces his bowing with delicate ornamentation and well-placed vibrato. The trio of Balestracci, violist Alessandro Tampieri, and cellist Bruno Cocset treat these works as a concert-worthy quartet would treat their repertoire, with insightful variety of tempi, dynamics, attacks, etc. And the six trios they've chosen for this recording are either some of the best of the 126, or else they've convinced "us" of the exceptional quality of their choices by the quality of their interpretation. Honestly, I for one am likely to listen to this single CD by Balestracci and friends more often than to all twenty-one CDs of the Esterhazy Trio's complete set.
But I don't want to dishonor the Esterhazy Trio's mammoth accomplishment. If you relish Haydn's chamber music, you should certainly hear several recordings of the baryton trios, by various artists not excluding the Esterhazy Trio. Buy one or two of their separate selections rather than the whole overwhelming box, and be sure also to buy performances by other ensembles as they appear. You'll get more musical enjoyment for you money that way.
Here are a few more choices:
Music for Baryton Trio 71 in a Major
Haydn: Baryton Divertimenti
Franz Joseph Haydn: Four Baryton Trios (Volume1)
Hadyn Baryton Trios