G Benda: Piano Concertos
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano) (Hyperion)
London Mozart Players/Howard Shelley (piano)
Hyperion CDA68361 80:39 mins
Georg Benda (1722-95) was the brightest star in a highly talented dynasty of 18th-century Czech musicians, many of whom enjoyed distinguished careers in north Germany. A prolific composer, Benda’s melodramas, Medea and Ariadne, were much admired by Mozart. His music is full of harmonic ingenuity and the kind of natural sentiment – often marked by extreme contrasts – and affective melody beloved of the era.
These characteristics are apparent in all these four concertos, particularly in the reflective Allegro non troppo that opens the G minor. In the outer movements there’s rather less thematic development than might be expected from Mozart, yet they are far from routine, often energised by muscular Baroque sequential writing. The slow movements, notably the Andante of the G minor and the Arioso of the B minor, show real originality with unexpected expressive turns and unfailingly attractive melody.
Howard Shelley makes the most of Benda’s ear-catching and surprisingly volatile piano figuration in the fast movements and brings a soulful quality to the melodies in the slow movements. The recorded sound is perhaps a little too resonant, but the London Mozart Players are clearly at home in this repertoire and in the slow movements orchestra and pianist make the most of Benda’s imaginative textures.