Haydn Trio Eisenstadt

We usually think of Haydn in familiar terms, thus forgetting how very strange much of his music is. The piano trios in particular, often composed for the soirees of his pupils and patrons, seem to be all charm, but are really full of unusual textures and schemes that demand a level of engagement not readily associated with 18th-century aristocracy.

It is to the credit of the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt that they succeeded in conveying this feature of Haydn's music in a concert of four trios interspersed with two new works (selected from 18 commissioned for the Haydn celebrations at Esterházy Castle earlier this year).

The first of these, Übermalung 1 (Overpainting 1) by Gernot Schedlberger, takes the form of a brilliant tribute in which a quotation from Haydn is repeated and "painted over" with varying degrees of opacity. Employing recognisably Haydnesque techniques, the piece reproduces the experience, common in Haydn's music, of hearing the primary melodic material diffused throughout the entire texture.

Remarkably good in itself, the piece also succeeds in re-attuning the ear to the strangeness of the original. The same cannot be said of Elena Kats-Chernin's Calliope Dreaming. Though similarly based on themes drawn from Haydn, the crisp, expressive economy of her model is chewed up and spat out in a rhythmically foursquare and harmonically vapid melange of Pachelbel, Brahms and tinned jazz.

However, the Eisenstadt Trio's playing was superb throughout. Leading from the piano, Harald Kosik made his Steinway sound remarkably like an 18th-century fortepiano. He merged his sound with the string players so that the impetus never rested, bringing out the experimental sonorities of the curious E major trio (Hob XV/28) and the daring of the C major (Hob XV/27). Best of all was that none of the pieces sounded the least bit familiar.

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