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Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, May 2012

Berg certainly understands the intricacies of the 18th Century Prussian style, and, given the difficulty of some of these pieces—particularly ones in non-traditional violin keys—he keeps the music as true to pitch as it can be kept.

The music itself ranges from pleasing to utterly charming. It is clearly music that Benda wrote to amuse and challenge himself, and it gives us a glimpse into the musical richness of Frederick the Great’s court. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, March 2012

Selections from Franz Benda’s elegant and expressive violin sonatas have appeared before…but violinist Hans-Joachim Berg and harpsichordist Naoko Akutagawa present them with original ornamentation, relying on an edition published by Mihoko Kimura from the Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz (the sonatas chosen for the program, according to the booklet, bear the library’s numbers). They perform their selection on a violin by Sebastian Klotz, 1735, described as being unaltered, and a harpsichord by Henk van Schevikhoven in 1992 at A = 415.

Benda’s rhetoric in the 23rd Sonata sounds very elegant, especially in the second movement, an Allegro moderato that unfolds with serene grace in Berg’s reading. The 32nd Sonata sounds brighter, perhaps because of the key (E Major), and perhaps because of the plentiful double-stops. In the first movement, Akutagawa graces the harpsichord part with cascading figuration, which contributes a great deal to the atmosphere’s ebullience. The slow movement, Adagio ò Arioso, incorporates many gracious and sensitive devices (including a very brief cadenza at the end), of which Berg’s performance takes expressive advantage. The final sonata on the program, No. 28 in F Major…offers moments that mingle charm and sentiment.

Those who wish to acquaint themselves with Benda’s œuvre should find in Berg’s and Akutagawa’s reconstructions an attempt to recapture their original sound and manner. Violinists and collectors of violin music should find Benda’s sonatas in these performances an entrée into a repertoire hitherto not frequently explored… © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Johan van Veen
MusicWeb International, December 2011

This Naxos disc is special in that it presents five sonatas from a large manuscript of 34 which contain written-out ornamentation by the composer. That makes this collection, which is preserved in the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, a unique source which gives insight into Benda’s own performance practice.

There is no doubt that Benda was a great virtuoso, and that these sonatas are testimonies to that. But this virtuosity is not demonstrative. Some movements are full of ornaments, but they work quite naturally. It is also indicative of Benda’s style that most tempo indications suggest moderation. These five sonatas are all in three movements but are structured differently. The sonatas 10, 14 and 23 all follow the then fashionable order of slow - fast - fast. The second movement was mostly moderately fast, whereas the last had the character of a show-stopper. That is a bit different in Benda’s sonatas, where the last movement isn’t that much different from the second. The Sonata No. 23 begins with an adagio which is followed by an allegro moderato and closes with an allegro non molto. The sonatas 28 and 32 follow the model of Vivaldi: fast - slow - fast which would also become the standard in the classical era. Again the tempo indications reflect Benda’s apparent preference for moderation. The last movement of the Sonata No. 32 is an allegro moderato e cantabile, whereas the Sonata No. 28 begins with un poco allegro.

Cantabile can be considered the trademark of Benda’s playing and composing…

The cantabile style of playing is well reflected in these performances by Hans-Joachim Berg…this is his first solo recording. And a very fine one it is.

Naoko Akutagawa gives good support at the harpsichord…I especially like the way she deals with the drum basses, for instance in the opening allegro from the Sonata No. 32. © 2011 MusicWeb International Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

The more I hear Baroque music performed on period instruments, the more I become disenchanted with recordings on their modern equivalents. Here we have a Baroque violin preserved and unaltered since it was made in 1735, and contemporary with the era when Franz Benda was composing his sonatas. At the time the performer would have been expected to add ornamentation in something approaching improvisation, and in the hands of virtuoso performers, the audience would have looked to hear the most ‘difficult’ additions. Though these works would have been created of the spur of the moment, Benda did write out some of these extemporizations, the results having survived and are now in the Berlin Staatsbiblothek. In recent times performing editions have been made of a few of the original thirty-four sonatas, and it is from these that the German-born violinist, Hans-Joachim Berg, has chosen five. In historic terms Benda lived at much the same time as C.P.E Bach, the two composers among the few looking forward at a time when ‘style’ had become rather static, one major change coming with the conventional four-movement sonatas replaced by three without a regime of tempo juxtapositions. That Benda was not always blessed with memorable melodic invention is here apparent, though if you turn to track 5, the central allegro of the Fourteenth sonata, you find his quick movements readily attractive. The following Presto is of bubbling happiness, but I wondered if others could play, to good effect, the finger-knotting music a notch faster. I have previously welcomed Naoko Akutagawa’s harpsichord discs for Naxos, and though her role here is not exacting, it is still thoughtfully handled. Sound quality is good and I commend the disc to you.

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