Saturday, April 25, 2009

Continuing up Mount Haydn

Having completed the 33 discs of symphonies in the Brilliant Classics' Haydn Edition, I have now begun to move into new material. Somewhat to my surprise (because I have not undertaken a particularly thorough study of the Hoboken catalog), I discovered that there were only seven discs of concertos; and only the concertos for organ were numerous enough to require two discs. Nevertheless, I found this a fascinating part of the collection. As I wrote back in February, Joseph Haydn seemed to have cultivated a keen sense of sonority, appreciating subtle differences in the coloration provided by the different instruments at his disposal. Thus, while, as Menahem Pressler observed in a Master Class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the piano part may have 75% of the notes in a Haydn piano trio, the "real action" in that trio emerges from the play of colors that take place in the interactions between that piano and the violin and cello. (I experienced a similar play of colors in a string trio by John Antes this past Thursday evening and speculated that this attention to coloration may have been due to Haydn's influence.) Thus, the instrumental diversity across a relatively small number of concertos may have been a result of Haydn's wish to explore the colors of several different instruments, each acting in a solo capacity, in preference to the more intense study of the concerto form itself, which we find in the piano concertos of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What I found most interesting was that Haydn had written five concertos for the lira organizzata, a rather peculiar combination of a portative organ with a string drone, often called a hurdy-gurdy. These were actually performed in a chamber setting of two violins, two "altos" (divided in this recording between a viola and a viola da gamba), one "basse" (played here on cello), and two horns; but the flavor is rather similar to the organ concertos.

I have now begun the section of music for voice and orchestra, where, thanks to the Berliner Philharmoniker, I discovered a significant sin of omission. Around the time that I was first exploring their Digital Concert Hall, I noticed that Nikolaus Harnoncourt was conducting a concert performance of Haydn's three-act opera Orlando Paladino. I figured I would hold off on watching this concert until I had a copy of the libretto, which I assumed would be included in the Haydn Edition on the accompanying CD-ROM. This led me to consult the Hoboken catalog, where I discovered that there were thirteen operas listed, none of which were included in the Brilliant Classics collection! In the course of poking around further in the catalog, I also discovered that there were eleven keyboard concertos, only three of which were included in the "Brilliant" collection. This is when I discovered that the word Gesamtwerk never appears anywhere on the box enclosing these 150 discs; and since the Collectors' Choice entry did not include a track listing, there was no way for me to recognize that this was not going to be a complete "edition," the way all previous editions were. (So much for my thoughts about why Haydn wrote so few concertos!) This raises the question of whether or not Brilliant Classics is planning to release a second volume of its Haydn Edition in the interest of thoroughness. Since, as I have previously written, Brilliant Classics has decided to avoid direct communication with their customers, I doubt there is any way in which I shall be able to find an answer to this question other than by waiting to see what happens in the future!

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