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Georg Anton [Jirí Antonín] BENDA (1722 - 1795)
Clavier Sonatas
Sonata No. 1 in B flat major (1757)
Sonata No. 2 in G major (1757)
Sonata No. 3 in D minor (1757)
Sonata No. 4 in F major (1757)
Sonata No. 5 in G minor (1757)
Sonata No. 6 in D major (1757)
Antonio Piricone (piano)
Recorded at the Royal Academy, Aarhus, 4 August 2002

One of the musicians who formed part of the great diaspora of Bohemian talent in the eighteenth century Benda’s family moved to Prussia where he pursued a distinguished career as Kapellmeister. There he wrote widely for the stage, church and more intimate locations, producing music such as this 1757 set of Clavier Sonatas. Despite some stylistic dissimilarity the geographical and musical journey Benda took allied him to such contemporaries or near contemporaries as Graun, Hasse, Fasch and Schulz. Even so his aesthetic here represents a personalised and individual one and these Berlin-published sonatas stand on the cusp between the baroque and the classical.

All six sonatas adhere to the expected three-movement sonata principle and Antonio Piricone’s is their first complete recording on the piano (harpsichord recordings have, of course, preceded him in the full set of six). His articulation is frequently princely, pianistic obviously but with an appreciation of appropriate harpsichord sonority, though one that stresses the lyricism at the heart of these works (his apologia in the booklet deals wittily with the idea of playing Benda on the piano). He catches precisely that stately edge in the opening movement of the G major and finds the right weight of articulation in the right hand in the affecting Andante assai. Alive to Benda’s grace as well as his lyricism, to the courtly phrase as much as to the more interior one, he is especially fine in the F major. Here in the opening Allegretto tempo, phrasing, hand weight and distribution are splendidly judged. In a sonata as quirkily unbalanced as the G minor – relatively long first movement, concisely affecting Andante and quick fire Menuetto finale – Piricone characterises each movement with genuine acumen. Sensing some probing uncertainties in the Lento of the D major, the sixth of the set, we encounter in this performance intimations of stylistic and expressive things to come – a really imaginatively played and understatedly prescient little movement, topped and tailed by the newly asserted confident externality of the surrounding Allegros.

Non-prescriptive ears will welcome Benda on the piano especially when it has been done as persuasively as here. The warm acoustic blurs nothing – those witty hand exchanges in the Allegro finale of the D minor for example are full of attractive clarity. The notes are pertinent and straightforwardly honest and in Piricone Benda has a most worthy and sensitive champion.

Jonathan Woolf


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