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Haydn and the Gypsies
Monica Huggett/Lux Musica/Linda Burman-Hall
Recorded 2000
KLEOS Classics KL 5101 [Total playing time 78.06]
AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Despite the unlikely title it becomes self-evident bearing in mind Haydn's birth in the Hungarian lakeside village of Rohrau and his later service as Kapellmeister at the Esterhazy Court, Austro-Hungarian roots and life respectively. Wandering gypsies or Roma established for themselves a highly sophisticated cultural identity, and this despite great efforts to persecute them out of existence from about 420BC to Hitler (and beyond no doubt to the present day). At various times their musical talents were exploited more by those who enslaved them, for example as entertainers to the marauding Turkish armies, thus their own Roma arts, styles and influences were disseminated along with those in whose service they operated. By the 18th and 19th century more sophisticated groups operated within the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy, their bands consisting of a leader on the violin accompanied by other strings, winds and the cimbalom (a hammered zither). They would also have a more sinister purpose, accompanying soldiers recruiting conscripts, a kind of softening-up process to put village men in a good mood with their accomplished playing and to make it easier for them to be persuaded to take the King's shilling (or Duke's groschen in this case!).

This highly interesting and superbly played CD is the brainchild of an expert in the field, the American Linda Burman-Hall, a musicologist who can also get out there and perform (brilliantly as a fortepiano player, but also as percussionist and director of the ensemble - flute, violin, viola and cello). There are seven groups of works, each a compilation of short and varied pieces sharing the same key but by different composers, apart from a set of seven dances by Hummel in the middle and at the end the three-movement Piano Trio in G (Hoboken XV: 25) by Haydn. Dominating the whole group, and quite rightly too, is the solo virtuoso playing of Monica Huggett, overflowing with goulash, her unashamed portamento, warm tone, stylish rubato all eminently Hungarian. Composers featured apart from Haydn are, apart from Hummel, unknown to this reviewer (Koschovitz, Csermák, Lavotta, Bihari, the list goes on and there's plenty by Anonymous too) and there is a lot of similarity in the format of these compositions. The oft-repeated formula of slow Laments followed by brisk dances establish a pattern which serves as a reminder of familiar works later on in the 19th and 20th centuries such as the Hungarian Dances of Brahms, Liszt, Kodály, and Bartók. This is a generously filled CD, the instruments authentic, the sound brightly resonant and spacious, all the performances excellent. Highly recommended.

Christopher Fifield



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