Saturday, February 26, 2011

GA Benda: Harpsichord Concertos - Bauer, LSF, Schneider

Georg Anton Benda
Harpsichord Concertos
Sabine Bauer, La Stagione Frankfurt, Michael Schneider
CPO 777 088-2

Georg Anton Benda (1722-1795), who was attached to the Berlin court initially under Frederick Great, made his mark as an innovative opera composer. However, there's little if any innovation on display in these harpsichord concertos, which are considerably less developed in style than the contemporaneous work of Mozart or either of the Haydn brothers. Aside from the virtuoso quality of some of the keyboard writing, these concertos display some typical galant mannerisms along with the Baroque tendency to sustain a single mood during a movement, if not throughout the whole piece. But within that constraint there is a lot of variety among these four works.

The most dazzling is the F major concerto, with brisk toccata-like writing that recalls Domenico Scarlatti. The F minor concerto is turbulent, and although I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "Sturm und Drang" piece, it does have a sense of struggle that presages Beethoven. The B minor concerto has its share of struggle as well, but it relaxes into a slow movement with a lovely melody. The G major concerto is the sunniest and in many ways the simplest of the lot. One idiosyncrasy is Benda's tendency to end movements abruptly, which happens at one point or another in nearly all these works.

The performances are delightful. The harpsichord and the string orchestra are well balanced, picked up fairly closely but with a nice sense of hall ambience in the surround program. The 1992 harpsichord is bright without being strident, assertive without being harsh. CPO's prominent pick-up conveys some of the sounds of its mechanism, enough to add a percussion effect in vigorous moments. Sabine Bauer's solo work is alert, brisk, and playful, reveling in the music's more challenging passages. La Stagione Frankfurt comprises only 13 players but never sounds stressed or scrawny. The music itself won't make any "Essential Classics" lists, but the disc is a pleasurable listen all the way through.

Joseph Stevenson,

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