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Friday, July 18, 2014

Haydn, Scottish Airs, Piano Trio, Werner Gura

If I were Joseph Haydn, and of course I am not, one of the toughest assignments would be to set very periodistic folk songs to music in my own way. Why hard? Because there is such an a-b regularity to some of them that I would be hard put to add as much in the way of nuance as I could, basically transcending the rather rigorously symmetrical melodic structures of the songs as something beyond a straightjacket to my natural inclinations for development.

He faced something like that in his settings of Scottish Airs (Harmonia Mundi 902144), available in a nice rendition by Werner Gura and the piano trio of Christoph Berner, Julia Schroder and Roel Dieltiens.

Perhaps Haydn welcomed the challenge late in his career (when these were created) because in essence all the subtlety of Haydn meets face-to-face with a ruddy-cheeked folk hardiness and both come out winners. The accompaniment to the straightforward vocal parts alternates between a earthy archaic quality and a worked-over sublimity that ultimately gives us a kind of friendly two-headed hydra.

There is spirit and sublimity at times in these settings. All of it strikes a note thanks to the formidable vocal dramatics of Werner Gura and the well-turned, lovingly wrought piano trio performances.

As a bonus and a refreshing break from the song form we also get an excellent Piano Trio in C Major Hob XV:27, the three movements coming in alternation between songs for maximum contrast.

This may not be something indispensable to your collection, but it is exceedingly lovely and well performed. And Haydn devoted his considerable inventive skills to make it all rather ravishing. Recommended.

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