Colourful playing brings a Haydn byway alive

Valencia Baryton Project: Haydn

The Strad Issue: March 2024

Description: Colourful playing brings a Haydn byway alive

Musicians: Valencia Baryton Project

Works: Haydn: Baryton Trios vol.2: nos.6, 35, 67, 71, 93 and 113

Catalogue number: NAXOS 8574504

Notwithstanding the intrinsic antiquity of music written for a long-obsolete instrument, the Valencia Baryton Project sounds more stylishly 18th-century than its rivals on record in this, its second sampling of Haydn’s surviving output of 67 trios. It’s partly a matter of gentler pacing that (perhaps paradoxically) allows for more animated phrasing, and even a measure of harmonic tension – as far as is possible in such temperamentally placid music. Haydn evidently accommodated not only the insatiable enthusiasm of his patron for the baryton, but also his modest performing ability, and perhaps also the nature of an instrument that resists rapid and complex harmonic change, with its array of gently thrumming sympathetic strings.

Given their origins, the Valencian musicians are accordingly sensitive to Haydn’s Boccherini-like touches of colour such as the strumming pizzicatos in the opening Adagio moderato of no.6. They effectively hint at a pathos akin to the Seven Last Words in the corresponding movement of no.113. Bringing an authentically rustic bounce to the quicker opening of no.71, they go on to phrase the counterpoint of the finale like an Italian motet. Close and repeated listening, as ever with Haydn, only serves to deepen admiration for his endless versatility at turning commonplace gestures into gold.