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James Manheim, October 2010

This collection of 18 piano trios dedicated to Haydn is itself an homage on the centennial anniversary of another Haydn homage: a collection of six piano pieces commissioned in 1909 by the Revue Musicale Mensuelle de la S.I.M. That project resulted in works by Ravel, Debussy, Dukas, Reynaldo Hahn, d’Indy, and Widor; inasmuch as those works are not well known, it might have been interesting to juxtapose them with the present pieces in some way. As it is, the new trios fill three CDs. They are divided into an unusual set of categories, “Austria,” “Europe,” and “Continents,” but the categories are mixed together in the program itself. One test for a musical tribute is whether you might guess the honoree without having prior background information, and certainly that’s not a problem here; several pieces contain direct quotations from Haydn’s music (mostly not trios, which may not have been the best choice for the project as a whole), and each one handles the quotations in a different way. One of the choice contributions is Haydn-Destillate by German composer Dieter Schnebel (CD 3, tracks 2–3), which begins with the finale of Haydn’s String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 33/2, “The Joke,” and variously either synthesizes or further atomizes its elements. Also making use of Haydn directly are Lalo Schifrin’s Elegy and Meditation (CD 3, track 1) and William Bolcom’s Introduction and Rondo: Haydn Go Seek (CD 2, track 1), and it is a pleasure to have contributions from these two aging giants of composition in the Western hemisphere. The pieces that do not refer directly to Haydn’s thematic material are generally in modern idioms. They fall roughly into four groups: those that take Haydn’s tightly knit thematic structure as a starting point, those influenced more generally by his humorous mood, those that use single features of Haydn’s music that connote something to non-Western hearers, and those with more tenuous connections. Among the most intriguing is Two Nguni Dances by South African composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen, which could fall into both the second or third categories; Ndodana-Breen states as his inspiration Haydn’s use of folk or folk-like melodies, adapting them to African polyrhythms transferred to the piano trio medium, and fitting with the Haydn spirit surprisingly intriguing collection that could serve as a useful overview of the question of how contemporary composers see their work in relation to the High Classical tradition.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, January 2010

What is this? 18 piano trios dedicated to the memory of Haydn? Well, he wrote 52 himself, if memory serves, so the Haydn bicentennial inspired Dr Walter Reicher to commission works from six Austrian composers, six European composers, and six from other countries for the Haydn festival in Eisenstadt. And here they are.

The first thing that occurs to this listener is how music has changed since Haydn’s time. The second is how much alike idioms have become all over the world. The first three trios are by Austrian Gerhard Krommer, John Woolrich from the UK, and Xiaogang Ye of China. They are all in a relatively atonal, dry idiom—and I’ll have to listen to them again in order to tell them apart. Krommer’s ...und licht... is the longest trio in the set, but it only lasts 13 minutes. Woolrich calls his trio The Night Will not Draw on, referring to an ETA Hoffmann essay on the composer. Ye’s Trio, Opus 59 is also insistent, yet there is a certain mood that one may associate with Chinese folk music.

Then things start to lighten up with Austrian Johanna Doderer, whose Trio 2 shows a tonal and somewhat romantic bias, actually referring recognizably to rhythmic attitudes Haydn might have used himself—or something resembling them. This is a work of intensity. Then we hear from South Africa in a setting of two Nguni dances by Bongani Ndodana-Breen. As one might expect and hope, these are rhythmically lively, almost jazzy productions. Disc 1 ends in Spain with Hekkan 2 by Jose Maria Sanchez-Verdu. His is a whispery attempt to create a new instrument out of the piano trio. I would judge that it remains a work in progress, since nothing ever comes of the clicking and banging.

Disc 2 begins at home with William Bolcom’s Haydn Go Seek, an effective evocation of Haydn’s most emotional idiom as he might have altered it had he been reincarnated in the 21st Century with some memory of his past self. It is the first piece here that I have been able to relate in a friendly fashion to. Jury Everhartz from Austria turns in a tiny work in three parts related to Haydn in a similar but less expressive fashion. He calls it Haydntrio. From Japan, Yui Kakinuma gives us KAGETSU, an etude on Haydn’s name, he claims. Yes, it’s an etude, a ten-minute one—too long for its material. But it becomes gradually more lyrical as it proceeds. Jacqueline Fontyn of Belgium gives us Lieber Joseph! a three-movement tribute to Haydn’s Piano Sonata 52 in E-flat. Towards the end she seems to be trying to exorcise Haydn from inside the piano, where he must be hiding between the strings. Austria’s Helmuth Hodl wrote two movements An Haydn in a busy but attractive idiom not unlike Kakinuma’s. There is something almost minimal about these two composers sometimes. Marton Illes is from Hungary. His is another busy-texture piece that he has incorporated into his Torso series as Number 6. Even this dauntless group of players has a little trouble with the leaping about in this piece. And so ends Disc 2.

Lalo Schifrin tunes in from Argentina on Disc 3 with a sort of Piazzollan semi-tango. Elegy and Meditation is the name of his opus, and it is beautiful in mood and material, Haydnesque or not. This is followed up by a Haydn- Distillate by German composer Dieter Schnebel, who actually takes a recognizable theme by Haydn and jokes around with it rather as Haydn himself did in his Joke Quartet. It is cute and enjoyable. Gernot Schedlberger from Austria abruptly knocks at the door. He doesn’t get an answer so he paces about, argues with his friends, and generally makes himself a nuisance. He claims that his piece is based on the opening of Haydn’s 102nd Symphony, but I think Haydn couldn’t recognize the passage and refused to open the door. Or maybe he did recognize it and didn’t like what Schedlberger did to it. The piece is in two movements and is called Ubermaling 1 (overpainting). From Austria to Australia doesn’t look far in spelling, but Elena Kats-Chernin is definitely in another world from Schedlberger and his compatriots. Calliope Dreaming is Haydn transferred to the outback and put on a music box. What I hear is Haydn strolling through the Australian countryside happily, his tunes mingling with the breeze and the birds. You wouldn’t guess that the basis is the Mourning Symphony’s melodies. Then we’re in France with Betsy Jolas, who takes Symphony 104’s finale as her source, calling her piece Ah! Haydn. It is dramatic and evocative, but, like much of this music, Haydn is not really recognizable as its inspiration. Finally we’re back in Austria, where Elizabeth Harnik offers schatten.risse (shadow cracks). This work makes a good ending to a somewhat disturbing program, since Harnik is determined not to write anything so ordinary as a piano trio. It is quiet but sonically disturbing. As Haydn slips back into his grave to decompose, this music will follow him.

As you must have gathered, I am not totally turned on by some of this. Some composers seem to be trying to negate the past; others are just afraid of it. It is a fascinating study in attitudes, however you take it, and I am glad to hear it. There aren’t that many trios written these days, and this is quite a collection. There are fascinating explanations by each composer as to why their music turned out as it did.

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