This 2-CD tribute to harpsichord and clavichord specialist Joan Benson (1925-2020) is derived from recitals taped 1962-2000. Benson taught at Stanford University, 1968-1976. Educated at the University of Illinois (Bachelor of Music, Master of Music (1951)) and Indiana University (1953), she received instruction in Europe from Edwin Fischer, Guido Agosti, Olivier Messiaen, Viola Thern, Fritz Neumeyer, Ruggero Gerlin, and Macario Santiago Kastner before returning to the U.S. in 1960 to pursue careers as a concert keyboardist and university professor. In her 2018 booklet notes, Benson credits Repertoire Records for their pioneer spirit to record the intimate, relatively small sound of the clavichord. Benson feels that much of her chosen repertory benefits from the clarity her clavichord brings to the occasion, especially when played back at a low volume. Both discs divide the selections into two groups, played first on the clavichord, then upon the fortepiano. The works range from the mid-15th Century to the 20th Century of composer John Cage.|
The immediacy of attack is evident at the opening of W.F. Bach’s Fantasia in E Minor, a stormy piece that anticipates Romantic emotionalism. Georg Wagenseil (1715-1777) wrote in a style known to Haydn and Mozart. His Bells in the Vatican at Rome is a staccato study in slow parlando (talking) style. The Haydn Sonata No. 18 in B-flat Major, set in two mvmts, presents a series of colorful contrasts, often erupting into brilliant, transparent flair. The Allegro moderato first mvmt has a Spanish flavor reminiscent of Scarlatti. The two-movement Sonata No. 44 in G Minor, has an improvisational quality, also using imitative effects in mvmt one. The Allegretto moves like a courtly dance.
Disc 1 ends with two works performed on the fortepiano, which yields a larger, more modern sound. Mozart’s intense Fantasia in D Minor is a dark piece, intimate and quite “romantic” in its sense of powerful feelings. It ends happily, in the manner of an opera aria. Haydn’s Sonata No. 24 in D Major is a large piece in three movements, dedicated in 1773 to Prince Esterhazy. The bright, clear, jubilant sound typifies the Broadwood piano Haydn played himself.
Disc 2 opens with 8 pieces for the clavichord. Jakub Polak’s Coranto sounds like a lute piece in transcription, a light, running tune. Also in the lute tradition, Froberger’s Tombeau. . .sur la mort de Monsieur Blancherole offers a slow elegy for a dead friend. Trabaci’s Versi is a brief, liturgical piece in transcription. The four works by C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788) provide a good cross-section of his empfindsamkeit style, the “school of sensitivity.” The 1787 Fantasia in F# Minor is a strong example of the chromatic and dynamic variety Bach’s free style brought to music, much removed from his father’s “learned” style of polyphony. Benson’s 1962 recording set the standard for further investigations of Bach’s oeuvre. The fantasias in F Major and C Major extend the mix of declamation and rapid shifts in mood and affect. Sonata I in E Minor has three short movements in different keys. The last 3 works are performed on the more expansive fortepiano.
Benson turns to the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) in three pieces of overt, Romantic temperament. The Venetian Gondola Song (1830) from the composer’s first set of Songs Without Words, captures the lyric sung upon the water, a display of the Broadwood instrument’s legato line. Sehnsuechtig is an expression of longing, a typical Romantic trope. The Venetian Gondola Song from Op. 30 adds to the nuance of oars dipping in the water to accompany the boatman’s lyric. Finally, Benson plays an unusual, lyric moment from American composer John Cage (1912-1992), his In a Landscape (1948), a pantheistic evocation of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.