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Memoires / Sebastian Benda

Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Genuin Musikproduction   Catalog #: 13283   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenFranz SchubertRobert SchumannFranz Liszt,   ... 
Performer:  Sebastian Benda
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 43 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MEMOIRES Sebastian Benda (pn) GENUIN 13283 (2 CDs: 163:17)

MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition. BEETHOVEN 32 Variations in c. SCHUBERT Sonata in B?. SCHUMANN Fantasiestücke. LISZT Sonetto 104 del Petrarca. Read more class="COMPOSER12">VILLA-LOBOS Alma brasileira. Festa no sertão. Lenda do cabocio. Impressões seresteiras. Dança do indio branco. MARTIN 8 Préludes

As I write this review, I am imagining a conversation among the upper echelon of the German Genuin Gesellschaft: “ Ja, der verdammte Fanfare reviewer Canfield has now given negative reviews to two of our fabulous recordings of Mussorgsky’s Meisterwerk, und how many more should ve continue to send in to that American publication before ve consider das whole effort kaput? ” Well, as it happens, they need not worry at Genuin, the label that has released more recordings of Pictures than has just about any other. To date they’ve issued four piano performances (in addition to Sebastian Benda’s here, there are others by Henry Bonamy, Rieko Yoshizumi, and Michael Seewann), a recording of the Hindsley band transcription conducted by Thomas Clamor, a version for bassoon quintet with the Quadriga Bassoon Ensemble, and a bayan version performed by Harald Oeler. The majority of these would have received positive reviews from me, had I reviewed them all (and I did give Clamor’s reading a positive review back in 37:2). I do, of course, stand by the generally negative reviews that I gave to pianists Yoshizumi and Seewann, but Benda’s artistry is impressive.

So, just who was Sebastian Benda? I would guess that his name is quite unknown to most of Fanfare ’s readership, given that his name shows up just once, with no biographical details, in the Fanfare Archive. Benda was born in 1926 into a musical family. His Swiss father, Jean Benda, was a well-known teacher of violin at the Hoch’sche Konservatorium in Frankfurt, and his mother was solo violist with the Beromünster Radio Orchestra under Hermann Scherchen. With such a genetic makeup, music was foreordained, and the young Sebastian’s precocious musical gifts in composition were quickly recognized by his parents, as well as Arthur Honegger, Joaquin Nin, Alfredo Casella, and Frank Martin. The latter, however, discouraged the young composer’s parents from steering him into a living from writing music (stating that such could be accomplished only by “writing tangos and marches”), instead encouraging him to focus on an instrument. As a result, Benda turned his attention to the piano, studying for seven years with Edwin Fischer. Thus was launched his career as a pianist who eventually gave recitals and concerts in 40 countries. It was on one such tour to Brazil that he became so enamored of the new and fascinating world there that he elected to settle there. Remaining for three decades, he finally moved back to Europe in 1981 to teach at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Graz, Austria, where he lived and worked until the end of his life in 2003.

These recordings, drawn from the pianist’s personal archive, serve well to give an overview of his life’s work. Chronologically, they range from the 1964 performance of Pictures to the 1994 recording of the Schumann Fantasiestücke. Recorded sound varies (the Pictures is a bit dim), but everything is quite listenable on sonic grounds.

Benda displays some interesting insights into Pictures at an Exhibition to which he also brings imagination, and occasionally some of his own emendations. The latter are usually tastefully done, such as the extra grace notes he puts into the left hand in measures 21 and 22 of “Gnomus,” the addition of a tremolo in that same movement in measures 60ff, the octave jump on the repetition at measure 23 of “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks,” and numerous doublings of the lower octave in the left hand, à la Horowitz. A good example of the addition of the last-named comes in the “bell” section of the “Great Gate,” which produces a more profound effect. It’s not Mussorgsky, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. Benda knows what to do in the phrasing of Pictures, too, as he lovingly caresses the melodic line of “Il vecchio Castello” (see measures 13 and 94, for instance). His “Chicks” is very lively, if less staccato than it is played by most pianists. “Samuel Goldenberg” is very freely rendered, and even though Benda downplays the drama at the end of the piece, it works well, especially with his added grace notes in the section beginning in measure 13. His “Limoges” is effective, too, in its breathlessness. Like a number of pianists, he substitutes broken 16th notes for the right hand tremolo throughout “Catacombs,” a change that I generally do not care for. However, somehow this pianist makes it work, and even takes the liberty of putting it up an octave in certain places.

Not everything in his interpretation is to my taste, however. Benda shows little imagination in the pedal point G? that runs throughout “Il vecchio Castello,” and the fifth promenade is so fast that it sounds perfunctory and rushed. The same problem afflicts the opening of the third promenade, although he slows down the tempo considerably in the second half. I also find his long sustained final chord of the first promenade quite contrary to Mussorgsky’s intention that “Gnomus” follow attacca thereafter. The edition that Benda plays from contains several of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “improvements” (actually, no such thing), such as the substitution of F for G? in measure 44 of “Gnomus,” or the piano opening of “Byd?o,” but my reservations are generally minor compared to the numerous fine touches that this pianist brings to the work.

Equally fine are the other works in this set. The Villa-Lobos pieces are played with plenty of sparkle and excitement, and I was especially impressed with the impetuosity of Impressões seresteiras and the forward-driving motion in Dança do indio branco. The Préludes of Frank Martin are morsels, which Benda most appropriately savors. The first disc in the set contains several extended works, and one may enjoy a reading of the Beethoven Variations in which the lines are presented with utter clarity and precision. The pianist seems to be seeking a balance between the Classical and the Romantic in this work, as he enjoys the slower variations for their beauty, while meticulously executing the faster ones. The Schubert may not explore nuances that other pianists haven’t already found, but it is an exquisite reading, with particular attention paid to the poetry of the Andante sostenuto movement. In the Finale, he strikes a good balance between drama and Gemütlichkeit, also most appropriate to the music of this composer.

I could find nothing to fault in Benda’s reading of the Fantasiestücke. The contrasts between the dreamy Eusebius and passionate Florestan movements seemed just right, as did his hesitation at the beginning of phrases in one of the pieces. The Liszt Sonetto 104 del Petrarca had all the passion and majestic sweep that one could hope for.

In short, Benda was a largely unrecognized pianistic talent in the 20th century, and this set should help gain him the recognition he deserves. I would hope that there is more material by him residing in archives that might also eventually see the light of day. Warmly recommended to any and all piano enthusiasts.

FANFARE: David DeBoor Canfield
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Works on This Recording

Variations (32) for Piano in C minor on an Original Theme, WoO 80 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1979 
Length: 10 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano in B flat major, D 960 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 1961 
Length: 34 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Phantasiestücke (8) for Piano, Op. 12 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1961 
Length: 27 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année, S 161 "Italie": no 5, Sonetto 104 del Petrarca by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837-1849; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 1979 
Length: 6 Minutes 58 Secs. 
Chôros no 5 for Piano "Alma brasileira" by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 1981 
Length: 5 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Ciclo brasileiro, W 374: no 3, Festa no sertao by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Brazil 
Date of Recording: 1981 
Length: 5 Minutes 3 Secs. 
A Lenda do Caboclo, W 166 by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1920; Brazil 
Date of Recording: 1981 
Length: 3 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Ciclo brasileiro, W 374: no 2, Impressoes seresteiras by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1936; Brazil 
Date of Recording: 1981 
Length: 6 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Dança do índio branco, for piano (Ciclo Brasileiro No. 4), A. 374/4 by Heitor Villa-Lobos
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1936-1937; Brazil 
Date of Recording: 1981 
Length: 3 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Preludes (8) for Piano by Frank Martin
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1948; Switzerland 
Date of Recording: 1994 
Length: 21 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Pictures at an Exhibition for Piano by Modest Mussorgsky
Performer:  Sebastian Benda (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Russia 
Date of Recording: 1964 
Length: 31 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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