Britten on Record: Haydn: Symphony no.55 in E flat major, ‘The Schoolmaster’

Britten on Record: Haydn: Symphony no.55 in E flat major, ‘The Schoolmaster’ (Decca)

Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra / Benjamin Britten

Live recording: Aldeburgh Festival – Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 19 June 1956

1 Allegro di molto
2 Adagio ma semplicemente
3 Menuetto & trio
4 Finale: Presto

Background and Critical Reception

This recording is taken from the very same concert as the Symphony no.45 (Farewell) listened to previously, with Britten conducting the Aldeburgh Festival Orchestra live from the 1956 Aldeburgh Festival.

Completed by 1774, the symphony is another of Haydn’s to acquire a nickname. Its Schoolmaster label was given after the composer’s death due to the apparently ‘wagging finger’ of the second movement theme, which is subjected to seven variations.

Thoughts

This recording feels much closer than the Farewell symphony, and loses a little of its charm as a result.

In addition Britten drives the first movement with impressive energy, heightening the contrast between this and the pointed toes of the Adagio, where the stiff upper lip can certainly be detected! For this movement Britten gets the strings to use mutes, and some of the violin tunes are extremely detached, their pecking figuration meaning the symphony could almost have been called the Hen as well.

The forthright Minuet gets a graceful and thinly scored trio for company, while the finale is one of Haydn’s irrepressible themes, given the perfect blend of wit and forward drive in this performance.

Spotify

Not available on Spotify

Also recorded in 1956: Dvořák – Symphony no.7 in D minor Op.70 (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Rafael Kubelik (Naxos)

Next up: Mozart – Piano Concerto no.12 in A major ‘Schoolmaster’

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