The Bohemian-German Bendas must be one of the most neglected
musical families in history, considering the immense talent
they possessed severally; 'they' being four composer brothers
with three composer offspring, including a daughter, as well
as several other instrumentalists and singers. None was more
gifted than Franz (born Frantiek): music historian Charles
Burney, though not known for infallible discernment, assessed
Benda's violinistic skill accurately, referring to him as "a
truly great genius."
Benda wrote music of exceptional attractiveness for his instrument,
not especially served by Glen Wilson's description in the booklet
notes as "the fluty warbling of the nightingale and a quicksilver
bow, not the raucous cry of the eagle and interminable 'big
sound'" - but at least potential buyers will know not to
expect music of the stylus fantasticus trend, nor any
of the experimental string-writing associated with Heinrich
Biber or Attilio Ariosti, for example.
The five Sonatas performed here by the excellent Hans-Joachim
Berg and Naoko Akutagawa on period instruments are all fairly
alike in length and character, which is to say highly mellifluous,
filigree, relaxed - here be no dragons. Benda aimed for, and
achieved, a cantabile sound that eschewed virtuosity for its
own sake. Modern audiences attuned to the violin music that
followed in the 19th and 20th centuries may find Benda's tempos,
dynamics and rhythms too even-keeled for their likening, but
fans of the Baroque should not only understand what Benda was
doing, but also derive great pleasure from these lyrical gems.
One of the selling-points of this disc - indicated on the cover
- is that the Sonatas contain Benda's own written-out violin
ornamentations, often substantial in nature. For the period
this practice is a relative rarity - figured bass writing was
still the norm - giving an important insight into Benda's own
Unfortunately Naxos have not indicated where these works occur
in Douglas Lee's recent Thematic Catalogue of Benda's music.
With 150-plus violin sonatas to the composer's name, these Sonatas
are impossible to distinguish by key alone, and the numbering
in the track-listing refers to the original ordering in the
manuscript of 34 published works with written-out ornamentation
now at the State Library in Berlin. A quick check on the Naxos
website, however, and hey presto, there are those Lee numbers
- an editing omission, it seems.
Aside from Berg and Akutagawa's impressively perceptive performances
- even if the latter's abilities are not tested to anything
like the same degree as Berg's - producer (Glen Wilson again)
and engineer also merit an honourable mention: sound and general
technical quality are very good. The CD booklet is adequate
- although the notes open with a surprisingly disparaging view
of the music of the decades where Baroque and Classical overlapped.
Wilson later concludes with the daftly anachronistic remark
- inane too, given that the same was true by definition of all
new works - that "when the [18th century] listener was
in the hands of an artist such as Franz Benda, the thrill of
not knowing what was coming next must have been like listening
to Art Tatum."
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
See review by Johan