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Georg BENDA (1722-1795)
Chamber Music and Songs
Elena Bertuzzi (soprano); Paolo Borgonovo (tenor)
Ulrike Slowik (violin)
Ensemble Arcomelo/Michele Benuzzi (harpsichord and director)
Full track-listing below
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94433 [6 CDs: 336:01]

Georg (Jiří Antonín) Benda, fine fiddle player and composer, was part of the illustrious Bohemian diaspora. His whole musical family moved to Prussia in 1742 and eight years later he was appointed to the position of Kapellmeister to Duke Friedrich III of Saxe-Gotha. He held the position for nearly three decades. Tending his garden after resignation was augmented by frantic editorial work, so that in 1780 he produced the first part of his Sammlung vermischter Clavierstücke für geübte und ungeübte Spieler – which also contains, in addition to the keyboard music started in the title, chamber music and songs, a secular cantata, and sacred arias.
Benda’s keyboard sonatas are often geared to professional performers whilst some of the smaller pieces, especially the sonatinas, may well be suited to gifted amateur performance. Stylistically the music is varied – baroque elements mingle with Sturm und Drang, some virtuoso figuration and some strange, interior slow movements. Benda can be abrupt – the fanfares in the Sinfonia in F are accompanied by just such a quality - but the writing can be subject to caprice as well: the hands leaping about in its Allegro finale is a perfect case in point. There are examples of Benda’s accompanied keyboard Sonatas – a harpsichord with the accompaniment of a string quartet – which reveal similar quixotic elements whilst also showing a fundamental lack of originality as to form. The string accompaniment is very subservient, even as the harmonic and melodic elements are individualistic.
The imaginative writing for keyboard is sometimes on a par with that of, say, C P E Bach and it’s surely in Benda’s fusion of unexpectedness and expressive intensity that the very best of his music lies; the Sonata in A in the second CD is an example of just such expressive breadth, in this case leading to a brisk but joyous finale. One of the best sonatas is that in F, which heads CD4 and it reveals in its capricious turns of phrase and accelerandi, just what makes Benda so interesting a kryboard composer. Visists to the plangent minor may well seem commonplace but he times them expertly, and the quality of misterioso is never so far from his quill either. The best feature of the sonata for violin and harpsichord is the shadowing figures of its slow movement, but otherwise it lacks individual stamp.
Most of the lieder are strophic and brief. There are larger-scaled songs and arias; a drinking song is here and a romanze but in the main they are largely technically undemanding. Of more serious import are the secular cantata and the two sacred arias. Cephalus und Aurore (disc 6) is heard in a keyboard transcription – apparently an orchestral version was available from the composer ‘on request’ but the notes don’t make it clear whether this has survived. There also seems to be some uncertainty as to voice distribution in this succinet work but the solution adopted for this performance - narrative sung by the tenor, Aurore’s words by the soprano – seems to me to be effective and practical. A more ostensibly powerful work is Jesus am Creuze (CD2) which probably comes from a lost oratorio Der sterbende Jesus and is presented as an extract from a Passionmusik. There is a recitative and aria, somewhat lacking bite melodically and sung rather effortful way by tenor Paolo Borgonovo. He is, throughout, happier in the folkloric or drinking songs but elsewhere his vocal delivery can be uneven and much less convincing. Soprano Elena Bertuzzi is a much better proposition and a pleasure to hear. Her voice is bright with fine intonation and she’s stylish.
The bulk of musical responsibility is undertaken by harpsichordist Michele Benuzzi who shows a fine appreciation of Benda’s quirks and qualities. He plays on a 2005 copy of a 1748 Philip Jakob Specken instrument. A lot of hard editorial work has gone into this set – transcription, questions of pronunciation, and matters of interpretation and so on. This six-CD box is nicely structured to present little self-contained ‘programmes’ – sonatas, followed by sonatinas, or else interspersing songs, or arias. But I calculate that, with a bit of re-jigging, those six CDs could have been reduced to four. Leaving that to one side, the notes are helpful though rather brief.
Jonathan Woolf

Full track-listing 
CD1 [68:13]
Sinfonia in F [8:26]
Sonata in G with accompaniment for 2 violins viola and cello [14:26]
Sonatina in D [2:25]
Sonatina in F [3:18]
Sonatina in A minor [2:22]. Sonatina in C [3:30]
Sonata in C minor [10:45]. Sonatina in E minor [2:01]. Sonatina in D minor [2:58]
Sonatina in B flat [4:40]
Sonata in G [13:03]

CD2: [53:13]
Sonata in A minor [11:42]
Jesus am Creuze from Passionmusik [12:23]
Sonata in G for violin and obbligato harpsichord [14:39]
Arie: Stolz auf Gott [6:52]. Sonatina in D [2:07]
Sonatina in F [2:30]
Sonatina in F [1:47]
Menuet in C [1:01]

CD3: [53:36]
Sonata in C [12:54]
Sonatina in D [2:57]
Mit Lauretten seiner Freude [1:45]
Sonatina in C minor [3:57]
Sonata in C with accompaniment for 2 violins viola and cello [16:37]
Mir Armen den des Fiebers Kraft [1:40]
Sonatina in A [2:09]
Du fehlest mir wie einsam [2:51]
Sonatina in B flat [2:53]
Von nun an o Liebe [2:24]
Sonatina in G minor [1:41]
Venus wenn du willst mich rühren [1:35]

CD4: [52:56]
Sonata in F [13:02]
Hüpft ihr wollenreichen Herden [2:03]
Sonatina in D [1:33]
Ich war bey Chloen ganz allein [1:04]
Sonatina in E flat [2:20]
Ob ich morgen leben werde [0:21]
Sonatina in C [2:53]
Mein Geliebter hat versprochen [1:54]
Sonatina in G [3:01]
Hier ist das Thal [1:05]
Sonatina in F [2:17]
Belise starb und sprach im Scheiden [2:55]
Sonatina in B flat [2:11]
Du kleine Blondine [2:06]
Romanze: Ein Mädchen das auf Ehre hielt [1:58]
Sonata in C minor [12:02]

CD5: [49:05]
Sonata in E flat [10:37]
Der Neid o Kind [1:57]
Sonatina in G minor [2:22]
Ein trunkner Dichter leerte sein Glass [0:34]. Lieber Amor, leihe mir [2:20]
Menuet in G [2:05]
Ich liebte nur Ismenen [4:13]
Sonatina in D [1:21]
Faulheit itzo will ich dir [1:56]
Sonata in F [10:24]
Philint ist still und flieht die Schonen [3:56]
Sonatina in C [1:46]
Wenn man mir ein Mädchen nennt [1:12]
Sonatina in G [1:46]
Heraklit gleich stumpfen Greisen [2:28].

CD6: [58:58]
Sonata in C minor [11:26]
Cantata: Cephalus und Aurore [10:58]
Sonatina in C [3:31]
Süsses Mädchen holder Knabe [2:35]
Sonatina in E flat [3:31]
Philint stand jüngst vor Babets Thür [1:01]
Sonatina in G minor [2:39]
Schön ist Selinde
Sonatina in G [1:31]
Sonata in C [6:56]
Rondo in A [2:13]
Sonatina in F [4:32]
Sonatina in D [1:28]
Ariette: Mein Thyrsis [2:34]