Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: in C,
; in a,
Ivan Ženatý (vn); Prague Philharmonia
SUPRAPHON 4064 (72: 26)
Václav Kapsa’s notes to Supraphon’s release of four Violin Concertos by Franti?ek Benda estimate that only about 20 of his works in this genre survive (compare that to more than 135 by his slightly older Italian contemporary, Giuseppe Tartini—in his book on the Baroque concerto, A. J. B. Hutchings mentions the Bendas only in passing). Kapsa places the Concerto in C Major as the earliest of the four, assigning it to 1740. The first movement projects a thumping energy in the tutti (consisting, in the case of the Prague Philharmonia, of a string quartet supplemented by a double bass and harpsichord) alternating with virtuosic passagework and suave lyrical melodies in the solo part (Kapsa relates that Benda’s teacher, Carl Heinrich Graun, suggested that his student follow the propensity for singing that he developed as a chorister—had Tartini been his teacher, he might have received the same sort of advice). Ivan Ženatý makes the most of these lyrical opportunities, as he does in the simpler slow movement that follows, and throughout he draws a commanding tone from his instrument—bright in the upper registers and throaty in the lower ones. The finale bustles with rhythmic energy; Ženatý plays its chattering double-stops with incisive crispness. The Prague Philharmonia makes as sonorous an impression as many a larger ensemble.
Kapsa suggests that the Concerto in B?-Major comes from 1740 (in the recording, Ženatý plays a Guarneri del Gesù from the same year). It features an arpeggiated main theme that sounds as simply wrought as one by Antonio Vivaldi; but the solo part swirls, in this performance, with the kind of effervescent figuration that characterized the works of the French composer Jean-Marie Leclair or, transposed into the highest registers, those of the Italian Pietro Locatelli. Ženatý displays again in the slow movement his way with Benda’s cantabile. If the Concerto in D Major sounds starchy at its outset, its brilliant violin part imparts to it a gloss that its tutti materials alone might not have suggested. Kapsa relates that a copy bears the date, April 1740, which would make it a rough contemporary of the Concerto in B?. The tuttis still contain sequential passages—almost, but not quite, reminiscent of those in Arcangelo Corelli’s works. Kapsa also suggests that Johann Georg Pisendel, to whom Benda sent his works for copying, added “demanding” horn parts, perhaps for performance by larger forces than Benda had originally envisioned. The slow movement sails high into the instrument’s upper registers, displaying Ženatý’s silvery eloquence in the stratosphere.
The Concerto in A Minor, according to Kapsa, represents one of only two of Benda’s Concertos cast in a minor key, and both seem to have been intended for either violin or flute. The strutting theme of its first movement introduces solos that, in fact, don’t sound at the outset so violinistic as those in the other concertos. Kapsa suggests, however, that the work betrays the influence of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s
and therefore looks farther into the future than do the other concertos in the set. Ženatý weaves a cadenza of his own composition into this movement—as he does into others—so seamlessly that the part might have been written out by Benda himself. The slow movement contrasts the leaping melodic motives of the tutti with the ardently singing solo part, the opportunities of expressive nuance of which Ženatý eloquently realizes. The finale offers many examples in the tuttis of dialogue within the melodies and of brisk figuration (though not in double-stops—remember the possible origin of the work as a Flute Concerto?) that provides plenty of excitement.
Gabriela Demeterová plays the same concerto in D Major in her collection of concertos by Benda, Vláclav Pichl, and Antonín Vranickwith Milan Laj?ík and the Prague Chamber Orchestra on Supraphon 3977 (
33:2), but her reading of the concerto, differs substantially—her large, buttery tone and slower tempos contrast starkly with Ženatý’s edgier tone and his overall crispness and vigor (she takes almost four minutes longer in the concerto as a whole), and will perhaps seem more appropriate to those who have become accustomed to hearing the same qualities in performances of other works from the same period, like Tartini’s. In fact, those listeners who maintain an interest in the music of Tartini’s contemporaries should find Benda’s Concertos, in performances by Ženatý and the Prague Philharmonia, surrounded by warm recorded sound, almost irresistible. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham