Notes and Editorial Reviews
Supraphon’s survey of music in 18th-century Prague includes two sonatas by Frantisek Benda, one by Carl Heinrich Graun that used to pass as a work by Benda, a sonata by Josef Antonín Gurecký, and two by Frantisek Jiránek. Of these musical figures, Benda may be the best known; Dr. Charles Burney met him and considered him original in his time (although, like Giuseppe Tartini, Benda placed primary importance on the singing quality of his compositions for violin).
The program, played at a pitch approaching A=415, opens with Benda’s Sonata in Bb Major. In the opening
violinist Lenka Torgersen demonstrates, with
sonorous support from cellist Libor Masek, with what vocal purity Benda’s lines can flow; but she brings a lively playfulness to the ensuing
, and to the following rapid movement. The first of Jiránek’s two sonatas, in F Major, shares in its opening
the singing quality of Benda’s works, but Torgersen encrusts the
that follows with spunky ornamentation and gives the final
Tempo di Menuet
an ingratiatingly zesty performance. The third sonata on the program, again by Benda, brings another engaging dialogue in the graceful opening Siciliano between the solo violin and the continuo group. The
that follows contains some brief passages on the G-string; and, digging into them, Torgersen reveals the strength in this register of the 1760 violin by Sebastian Klotz upon which she plays, a register earlier composers generally avoided because of the massiveness and therefore the balkiness of the lowest string. She also spits defiantly in the movement’s across-the-string staccatos. These staccatos reappear in modified form during the thematically similar finale.
The sonata formerly attributed to Benda (and bearing catalog numbers for both composers) demands from the performers a similar lyrical affinity, especially, perhaps, in its
. Gurecký’s four-movement work (the others on the program all fall into three movements) includes in its second movement passages novel in harmony and some attempts to extend the violin part’s ambit upward; but its overall style fits into that prevalent in the rest of the program. The recital closes with a Sonata in C Major by Jiránek, at more than 12 minutes the longest of the program’s works. Its
gives Torgersen an opportunity to indulge in pregnant rhetorical pauses, and Luks offsets its singing lyricism with flashing runs. The ensemble makes an especially strong case for the gavotte and variations that constitute the finale.
Leila Schayegh, Václav Luks, and Felix Knecht made a selection of Benda’s sonatas on Glossa 922507,
35:6, as did Hans-Joachim Berg and Naoko Akutagawa on Naxos 8.572307,
35:4. Berg produces a tone more nasal in quality and occasionally sounds as though he shifts awkwardly between positions, but he has the advantage of playing Benda’s ornamentation. Schayegh, on the other hand, playing some of the sonatas with fortepiano, deploys a tone lighter in weight but flexible and expressive. For those interested only in Benda’s works, it might be a toss-up, but for the entire program, Torgersen’s is hard to beat, with its lyrical and at times jaunty performances, and deserves to be recommended to almost all listeners.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
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