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Franz & Georg BENDA: "Concerti"

Jan De Winne, transverse flutea; Ryo Terakado, violinb; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichordc
Il Gardellino

rec: August 15 - 18, Bolland (B)
Accent - ACC 24215 ( 2009) (76'42")

Franz BENDA (1709-1786): Concerto for transverse flute and strings in e minora; Concerto for violin and strings in E flatb; Georg Anton BENDA (1722-1795): Concerto for keyboard and strings in f minorc; Concerto for keyboard and strings in Gc: allegro scherzando; Concerto for keyboard and strings in b minorc

Jan De Winne, transverse flute; Ryo Terakado, Sophie Gent, Stephen Freeman, violin; Mika Akiha, viola; Marco Testori, cello; Frank Coppieters, double bass; Shalev Ad-El, harpsichord

Frederick II of Prussia (1712 - 1786) had a great interest in intellectual and artistic matters and a special liking for music. He was taught to play the flute by Johann Joachim Quantz, to the great dissatisfaction of his father. When Frederick William I took some drastic action Frederick only became more resolute to follow his heart. At his court in Ruppin he started to assemble musicians, and appointed Carl Heinrich Graun as general court musician in 1735. The next year he moved to Rheinsberg, accompanied by musicians of fame, like Graun and his brother Johann Gottlieb, the brothers Franz and Georg Anton Benda, Christoph Schaffrath and Johann Gottlieb Janitsch.

In 1740 he succeeded his father as king of Prussia, and he immediately started to extend his court chapel. Apart from the musicians mentioned above he attracted Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Christoph Nichelmann, his former flute teacher Quantz - who until 1741 was at the service of the court in Dresden - and Johann Friedrich Agricola. But the fact that these musicians and composers were all connected to Frederick's court doesn't necessarily imply their music was played there. It is a well-established fact that Frederick's musical taste was rather conservative, and there is no doubt that many of the compositions of members of his chapel would not find his approval.The concertos which have been recorded by Il Gardellino are good examples of such compositions.

Franz and Johann Georg Benda were of Bohemian origin, and they are just two of the many musicians from that region which spread all over Europe as performers and composers. They were the sons of Jan Jiri Benda, a linen weaver and village musician. Five of his six surviving children became musicians: Franz, Johann Georg, Georg Anton, Joseph and Anna Franziska.
Franz was the eldest, born in 1709, and was a very good singer in his youth, working in Prague and the court chapel in Dresden. After his voice broke he concentrated on playing the violin. He at first worked for a while in Vienna and then in Warsaw, and in 1733 he was engaged as court violinist by Frederick. The rest of his life he stayed at his service, ending his career as Konzertmeister.

Benda was held in high esteem, as quotations from Charles Burney and Johann Friedrich Reichardt testify. The former wrote that he "acquired a great reputation in his profession, not only by his expressive manner of playing the violin, but by his graceful and affecting compositions for that instrument". And Reichardt stated that Benda was able to "overwhelm and command the heart of his audience".
The graceful character of his compositions come well to the fore in his violin sonatas, but also in his solo concertos. It is not known for sure how many violin concertos Benda has written, but 15 have survived whose authenticity is established. Three have been attributed to him but are probably written by someone else. The Concerto in E flat is a perfect example of the 'cantabile' style for which he was so famous as a performer. It is not too far-fetched to assume that his own past experiences as a singer had everything to do with his preference for a 'singing' style. The slow movement contains some very spicy harmonies.

The Concerto for transverse flute and strings in e minor is an example of a composition which is very unlikely to have ever found the approval of Frederick the Great. But Benda and other composers at the court, like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, also wrote compositions for private performances in the salons of the bourgeoisie in Berlin. In fact, this concerto has much in common with the style of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In particular the nervousness of the fast movements is reminiscent of Bach's solo concertos and string symphonies. The solo part is quite different, though, much quiter and much more elegant - not very different from the solo part of the violin concerto. This way Benda creates a kind of dialogue between the solo and the tutti. In the slow movement the strings play con sordino, a technique characteristic of the style of the Empfindsamkeit.

The second son of Jan Jiri, Johann Georg (1713 - 1752), became a member of Frederick's chapel too, first as viola player, then as violinist. And he was joined by Georg Anton in 1742, who also played as a violinist in the chapel. But in 1750 Georg left the court and became Kapellmeister to Duke Frederick III of Saxe-Gotha. Here he composed sacred cantatas, instrumental music and was one of the earliest contributors to two new genres, the Singspiel and the melodrama. He was an intellectual who spoke several languages and was strongly interested in politics and philosophy.

The two keyboard concertos are dated in the 1770s and 1780s. Like Franz Benda's flute concerto they are strongly reminiscent of Carl Philipp Emanuel's keyboard concertos. But here the harpsichord doesn't create a contrast to the string parts, but joins them in that nervous style which is usually called Sturm und Drang. Sudden pauses and dynamic outbursts regularly appear in these concertos. The slow movements bear the traits of the Empfindsamkeit, with the strings playing con sordino again.

Because of their irregular character the solo parts sometimes sound like improvisations. It seems that Shalev Ad-El is even adding a little extra by hesitating at some moments, slowing down and using some rubato now and then. It makes these concertos all the more exciting, and the ensemble follows him closely. The orchestral parts in Franz Benda's two concertos are also given splendid performances. Jan De Winne is an experienced player of the transverse flute, and plays the solo part elegantly, with excellent phrasing and articulation. Ryo Terakado's duty is to play the solo part in the violin concerto in the singing style for which Benda was famous. I think he is doing so very well, and here one gains a sense of the playing which impressed Benda's contemporaries so much. Some of them were even moved to tears when they heard him playing. In every concerto cadenzas are added, all in good taste without overstepping the mark.

The oeuvre of the Benda brothers is as yet little explored. Franz's flute concertos have been recorded before, but his violin concertos are still pretty much unknown territory. Georg's keyboard concertos seem to enjoy some popularity recently, as several recordings have been released. This disc gives a very fine introduction to the music of these highly gifted brothers, and their compositions are served very well by Il Gardellino.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

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