Britten on Record: Haydn: Symphony no.45 in F sharp minor, ‘Farewell’ (Decca)
Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra / Benjamin Britten
Live recording: Aldeburgh Festival – Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 19 June 1956
1 Allegro assai
3 Meneut: Allegro – Trio
4 Finale: Presto – Adagio
Background and Critical Reception
Britten’s love of Mozart is well known, but Haydn was also a composer to whom he was repeatedly drawn – and who received a good deal of coverage at the Aldeburgh Festival, from which this recording is taken in 1956.
This is our first listen to a Britten recording with the Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra, though the orchestra he went on to have a particularly close performing relationship with was the English Chamber Orchestra. With him they made the first full recordings of The Rape of Lucretia and Albert Herring, not to mention the Cello Symphony and later, with Steuart Bedford, Death in Venice.
Haydn’s Farewell Symphony dates from 1772, and is one of his Sturm und Drang symphonies, at the point where his grip on the form was intensifying. At this stage he was exploring less than usual keys, as well as introducing darker colours into the orchestra. The symphony has an unusual end – as Haydn, keen to make a request to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy that his musicians get the chance to visit home, gradually thinned out the orchestra until just two violins were left playing. The next day they got their wish.
It is clear from the poise he keeps throughout this symphony that Britten has a very thorough understanding of Haydn and what makes him tick. The music is often light on its feet, which means the witty themes and exchanges so often evident in the music can be fully exploited. It also means the slow movements sound more like arias from an opera, as the Adagio does here, with some tricky high horn notes that the ECO horn player negotiates with impressive ease.
The orchestra dig in more in the faster music, which in this minor-key symphony has a darker hue. The ‘farewell’ itself is surprisingly sombre, but very nicely played – and there is obviously a bit of humour at the end because you can hear the audience chuckling before beginning their applause. I suspect there may have been a twinkle in Britten’s eye at that point…
Not available on Spotify
Also recorded in 1956: Bach – Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Chloë Owen (soprano), Gert Lutze (tenor), Kieth Engen (bass), Münchener Bach-Chor, Members of Munich State Opera Orchestra / Karl Richter (Archiv)
Next up: Haydn – Symphony no.55 in E flat major ‘Schoolmaster’