Sunday, May 10, 2009

Out of the Scottish Woods

My traversal of the Brilliant Classics Haydn Edition has now taken me through all of those Scottish and Welsh songs collected by the "irrepressible" George Thomson, as well as the Scottish collections of William Whyte and William Napier. Fortunately, this trip through the Scottish woods emerged on a field of three CDs of Joseph Haydn's original song compositions, which aligned relatively nicely with my Henle Verlag Lieder volume and included a couple of songs with Italian texts that Henle had either excluded or neglected. More important is that, as with the case with the Brahms collection, these particular CDs restored to my library the content of some vinyl records I had given up with the move to San Francisco. These were the Haydn song recordings made by soprano Elly Ameling, accompanied by Jörg Demus. Back when most of my concert-going took place in New York, I was a big Ameling fan. I had already acquired the CD version of the recordings she had made of the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart songs, so I was glad to have her Haydn collection restored to complement the Mozart collection.

I have now moved on to the string quartets. As had been the case with the cantatas in the Bach Edition, these are somewhat peculiarly ordered; and a quick perusal of the Hoboken catalog revealed that the collection is not quite complete. Now the omission of the Opus 3 quartets is understandable, since it has now been established that these were composed by Roman Hofstetter. On the other hand the two quartets missing from the Opus 2 collection are the ones originally composed as divertimenti that included two horn parts; and the entire Hoboken volume (II) of divertimenti that do not include the piano has been omitted from the Brilliant collection, which I take to be as great a disappointment as the omissions from Hoboken's concerto volume (VII).

Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in the quartets that have been included. As is the case with the symphonies, we have an abundance of examples of how Haydn could exercise his wit with this particular combination of instruments. (Hoboken III/38, published as Opus 33, Number 2, is sometimes known as the "Joke" quartet.) Furthermore, these performances by the Buchberger Quartet do an excellent job of bringing out that sense of instrumental coloration, which I wrote about last February when I took issue with how Menahem Pressler had approached one of Haydn's piano trios in his Master Class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Haydn is a great favorite among music theorists because his sense of invention could be so imaginative; but, if we press our noses to close to the score pages, it is too easy to miss out on just how extraordinary Haydn could be in the actual sounds emerging from his instruments. It should therefore be no surprise that this keen sense of auditory experience was a key element in this week's San Francisco Symphony performance of Haydn's B-flat major sinfonia concertante (Hoboken I/105); and I would give conductor Bernard Labadie far more than ample credit for shaping that auditory experience. As I have already written, this is also one of the virtues of the performances of the symphonies by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer; so, whatever its "sins of omission" may be in the collection Brilliant has assembled, this Haydn Edition is turning out to be an excellent sample through which we can come to understand the virtues of Haydn through his sounds as well as his notes.

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