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GRAMOPHONE (09/2015)
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Reviewer: Richard Wigmore


Benda ‘Music from Eighteenth-Century Prague’ Selections from Sammlung vermischter Clavier- und Gesangstücke für geübte und ungeübte Spieler Ivana Bilej Brouková sop Helena Zemanová vn Hana Fleková, Marek Štryncl vcs Edita Keglerová hpd Supraphon F SU4184-2 (76’ • DDD)


In the 18th century the Bendas were to Bohemia what the Bachs were to

Thuringia. Most famous of the musical dynasty was Jiří Antonín, or Georg (1722-95), who before he settled as Kapellmeister in Gotha worked as violinist at the Berlin court of Frederick the Great. The most powerful – and most cussed – musical personality at court was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whose influence threads through the four sonatas on this disc, above all the C minor, with its harmonically adventurous opening movement, self-communing Poco largo and jerky, angular finale, which delights in destabilising the regular minuet rhythm, ŕ la CPE.


The other sonatas – two for harpsichord, one for violin and keyboard – tend to dilute the rhetorical extravagances of CPE Bach’s style with a decorous classicism. Blandness sometimes threatens, even more so in the featherweight sonatinas, though even at his most compliant Benda can trip you up with a disorienting pause or surprise harmonic twist. Playing on a resonant modern copy of a 1756 Pascal Taskin harpsichord, Edita Keglerová has a sensitive feeling for Benda’s idiom, not least in her judgement of rubato, and meshes neatly with Helena Zemanová in the amiable dialogues of the G major Violin Sonata.


In the German songs interleaved with the keyboard works, Benda reveals a nice ear for a pretty pastoral tune. But their pastel-pale galanterie is not best served by the boyish monochrome soprano of Ivana Bilej Brouková. Both the mock pathos of ‘Mir Armen’ and ‘Romanze’ – a tale of country girl outsmarting randy aristocrat that later crops up in Haydn’s Seasons – call for more guile and point than Brouková can muster. While the sonatas here are certainly worth hearing, a Hyperion disc (1/94) from Emma Kirkby and Rufus Müller makes a much more vivid case for Benda’s songs.


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