There is something distinctly homely about Haydn’s London Flute Trios. Somehow, the transparency of the texture and modest technical demands on both performer and listener combine to conjure up an attractive simplicity. Although far from deep or challenging, these works have a sophistication which makes them well worth hearing. This new recording from the appropriately named Diversions label presents all four trios together with two works by Carl Philipp Stamitz.
In keeping with the nature of the music, these performances have a gentility and modesty about them. At no stage does the interpretation stand in the way of an appreciation of Haydn’s writing; and at all times the playing – apart from the most minute discrepancies in ensemble – is perfectly matched to the music. The flutes of Peter Harrison and Lesley Holliday are well balanced and Rachel Gray’s contribution on the cello blends with subtlety. After a while, though, this demure approach needs variety. The Vivace rondo that closes the first Trio seems rather staid and hardly captures Haydn’s humour. In general the phrasing of the flute parts would benefit from being more lyrical: often it comes across as rather too foursquare.
For the most part the recording is clear and precise, and the acoustic is suited to the repertoire. However, something rather odd has happened either to the levels or the relative position of the instrumentalists to the microphone. In the Stamitz Duetto, the flutes appear to be very close; in the trios the sound is rather more muffled, and – most curiously – the balance seems to vary between the movements of individual works. Nevertheless, in listening to this disc one can almost imagine oneself back in the eighteenth century hearing a domestic performance. The dry acoustic creates an atmosphere which – with a little imagination – re-creates the conditions of a 1790s drawing-room. Both Stamitz’s and Haydn’s music work well in this environment, though Haydn’s is by far the most rewarding. In short, this is a perfectly pleasant disc which succeeds within its modest terms of reference; indeed, as befits the label, it is most diverting.