Benda, harpsichord sonatas (>1766?),
Franzova. Supraphon SU 3745-2 131
Mann" present several enigmas in
the history of Viennese pre-classical
music. Was J.C. Mann actually the brother
of G.M. (or M.G.) Monn (rural Austrian
spelling of the name although G. M.
was born in Vienna). Did he change the
spelling of his name to avoid confusion
with him or just to please his patrons
who spoke German? Where was J. C. born?
Did he return to Vienna to assist his
dying brother to settle his affairs?
Was he active in Prague and Vienna only,
or did he travel?
Whatever, for their
time these sonatas are brilliantly entertaining,
and I have elsewhere drawn parallels
between them and the roughly contemporaneous
keyboard works of Benda which are enjoying
a deserved popularity right now. Synthesist
Simpson performs them on a large harpsichord
with a deep 16’ rank which he uses with
particularly good effect in the "Bells
of St. Stephen’s" movement of sonata
#1. Recording is close and engulfing,
recalling the effect of the Fernando
Valenti Westminster recordings of the
1950s but without the bumps, twangs
and thumps of that noisy instrument.
Simpson’s taste and ability to ornament
and embellish music from this period
is truly exceptional, neither too much
nor too little. Personally I would have
preferred unequal temperament, but Simpson
chooses equal temperament; it’s one
of the things we argue about.
These works were all
edited and performed from manuscript
by Simpson who gives credit to the Staatsbibliothek
zu Berlin, Preussicher Kulturbesitz,
Music Abteilung mit Mendelssohn-Archiv
for the Mann manuscripts, and to the
Institut für Musicwissenschaft,
Universität Wien for the Wagenseil
scores. He records more from that manuscript
on Initium release A-006, on a fortepiano
or, I should say, fortepianos.
personal musician to Maria Theresa and
her family, was always more successful
and better known of these two men, when,
after the Mann, we move on to Wagenseil,
there is the unmistakable sense of let-down.
Yet these Wagenseil Divertimenti are
charming works, brilliant in their own
way, and impeccably performed.
The use of a computer
assisted MIDI synthesiser instrument
will inevitably bring protesting cries
of "The computer is playing the
music!" This is absurd; the computer
does only what it is told to do and
absolutely nothing else. Simpson has
played oboe and flute in the orchestra
and taught piano for a number of years.
He performed with his star student at
the two pianos for the local public
performances of Una Cosa Rara,
after editing and arranging the part
from the orchestral manuscript score.
This is to say Simpson knows all about
performing music in public, but as the
years have passed his dexterity has
not kept up with his imagination, and
the computer assistance allows him to
play this music exactly as he wishes
it to be heard ... without compromise.
His performance of the "Aria Scocese"
("The Harp that Once Through Tara’s
Halls") and variation in Mann’s
Sonata #4 should silence detractors.
When you’ve heard these
disks you’ll want to hear more from
J. C. Mann, and we’re in luck: Simpson
has already recorded three of his Menuet-and-Trios
for fortepiano on issues A-004 and A-005,
and I promise to keep nagging him to
do more of them for us.