on 2 October 2000
Review of Decca disc Catalogue no. 4588692; ASIN B00004T2FS
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 45 55; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 12.
Of several important advantages presented by the long-awaited appearance of this disc, perhaps the most valuable is the opportunity to study what one front-rank composer can reveal in two of his most illustrious predecessors. Despite the monumental achievement of H.C. Robbins Landon Haydn is again undergoing something of an eclipse. The Proms of 1997, 98 and again this year didn't distinguish themselves by only including one each of the symphonies, but this reappearance of the "Farewell" and especially "The Schoolmaster" is some appeasement. The former has not fared too badly for versions over the years since Sir Henry Wood recorded it before the 2nd World War on a set of Columbia 78's and Britten's reading is one of several worthy successors. No.55 (1774) doesn't have its striking originality; the composer had by now come down from the extraordinary peaks of "Sturm und Drang" and in "The Schoolmaster" was no longer expressing himself in such a frenetic style. What matters is what he does with this blander material. Two variation movements in a 20-minute work might look daunting, but the slow movement, deliberately dry and affecting pedantry, but so artfully humorous (believed to be a portrait of a schoolmaster in love!), is stylistically poles apart from the delightfully exhilarating finale. Britten secures a vigorous firm control throughout. The false recapitulation in the first movement really makes its point and the poetic lines of the Trio, where Haydn, as so often, writes an enchanting part for solo cello, make the intended contrast with the rather academic minuet. Two attractively performed earlier Haydn symphonies in perceptive performances are gift enough but the "cup runneth over" with the inclusion of the earlier of Mozart's two A major Piano Concertos. This is always likely to be overshadowed in popular esteem by the uncanny brilliance of K488. But every Mozart concerto is indispensable, the more so here since Benjamin himself is the soloist and we all know what intense vigilance was the hallmark of his keyboard style.