Favourite of Frederick the Great, pioneer of Sturm und Drang, singer, virtuoso violinist and teacher, Franz Benda is one of the most influential figures in the history of the violin. The great 19th-century virtuoso Joachim is said to have honed his technique on Benda's Etudes. And I fancy there might even have been a brief flash of the concerto Brahms wrote for Joachim some 90 years after Benda's death in Pavlo Beznosiuk's long-limbed, silky cadenza to the composer's Violin Concerto in D minor at St John's, Smith Square this week.
Beznosiuk's programme with the Academy of Ancient Music focused on music written at the cusp of Classicism: the mannerist gestures and elaborate caprices of CPE Bach's Symphonies, the souped-up Baroque of the Benda, Mozart's curious attempt to recast Bach as Lotti in the Adagio and Fugue in C minor, and the Italianate Concerto in C written by Haydn in his first glorious years at Esterhazy.
This is high-impact, high-energy music - not simply because of the lightning key-changes and glancing arpeggios that CPE Bach wrote with little care for how they might fit on a violin, but also because of the extreme and sudden shifts in emotion that he and Benda espoused. Their Adagios pre-echo Mozart and Haydn's mature arias in their elegant legato swoops and sighing undulations, while recalling the feverish ecstasies of the early Baroque. Their bracing Allegros and Prestos have a dynamism like that of Vivaldi's Concertos, with the added muscularity of Classical bowing.
In terms of engagement with the music, each other, and their audience, this was an exhilarating performance. Like Musica Antiqua Köln, AAM are uninhibited in their blistering articulation of the fast passages and voluptously detailed slow movements. Even Mozart's oft-heard Divertimento in D had new vitality and transparency.
Beznosiuk's direction was as characterful as his playing of the solo parts: cherry-ripe of tone, subtly warmed by vibrato, thoughtful, inventive, witty and impeccably stylish. Continuo cellist Joseph Crouch accompanied with tremendous sensitivity. In the cookie-cutter world of period instruments orchestras, AAM have a sound and style that is truly distinctive.