The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Persuasive accounts of violin sonatas by an 18th-century Bohemian master
Musicians: Hans-Joachim Berg (Baroque violin) Naoko Akutagawa (harpsichord)
Composer: Franz Benda

Franz Benda’s sonatas demonstrate his capacity for resourceful melody, structural authority and skilful craftsmanship. The cantabile character of his works was especially noted by Charles Burney, who remarked: ‘scarce a passage can be found in [Benda’s] compositions, which is not in the power of the human voice to sing.’

In a largely unobtrusive manner, Benda also makes considerable technical demands, which Hans-Joachim Berg meets in persuasive, if unsensational fashion. He shapes the line immaculately in the slow movements, making light of the left-hand problems resulting from Benda’s elaborate ornamentation practice – sample, for instance, the Andante of no.10 or the Adagio of no.28. He is also fleet of finger in the quicker ones, choosing his tempos carefully and never allowing virtuosity to get the better of his judgement; the Presto finales of nos.10 and 14 are cases in point. Harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa gives reliable support throughout, without being especially imaginative.

The close recording has impressive clarity and presence. Although there are inevitably moments of roughness, uncomfortable intonation and debatable interpretative practice, it is impossible to ignore the individuality, vitality, textual clarity and sensitivity of these performances, which bring credibility to Burney’s description of Benda as ‘a truly great genius’.