COMPOSERS: Jiri Antonin Benda
WORKS: Ariadne auf Naxos; Pygmalion
PERFORMER: Brigitte Quadlbauer, Peter Uray, Hertha Schell (speaker)Prague CO/Christian Benda
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553345 DDD
When Mozart was in Mannheim he heard Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos and thought it was excellent. This very enterprising recording shows us why. Benda’s ‘melodramas’ are spoken throughout (there is no singing), but in them the orchestra develops a glorious musical character in its own right – interjecting, urging on the drama and conjuring up scenes and moods. Mozart soon put Benda’s techniques to good use in Zaide, Thamos and Idomeneo.
Of course, such a crucial role for the orchestra demands great flexibility from its players. Here they are at their best in moments of ravishing tenderness. When, for example, Ariadne speaks of resting happily on her mother’s bosom, a violin solo of quite extraordinary beauty emerges from the warm halo of sound in the orchestra. The moments of high drama, though, lack edge and pace. Pygmalion, which presents an artist anguishing over the nature of art (and which is astonishing for its time), fares better, perhaps because the narrator, Peter Uray, displays a stronger sense of theatre than Quadlbauer in Ariadne. But full marks to Naxos (the recording label, that is, not the island) for giving us these gems from the vaults of history. Anthony Pryer