At least four of the discs were previously packaged
in two separate CD sets. The current release is presented as a box set,
each disc in a cardboard envelope plus a booklet of information.
In October 2000 I
reviewed the two discs originally released as Volume 1 and found
them not to my taste.
An exact contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach, Silvius
Leopold Weiss (1686-1750) was a lutenist of, allegedly, formidable virtuosity.
With the demise of the lute as a popular instrument Weiss’s music was
all but forgotten until a series of unlikely events reinstated his name
as a baroque composer of note. A version of the story is that the Mexican
composer Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) wrote a pastiche on a baroque suite
and in collusion with his friend Andrès Segovia (1893-1987) the
guitarist passed the piece off as a work by Johann Sebastian Bach. The
subterfuge worked until Segovia performed the suite in a concert attended
by Wanda Landowska the great harpsichordist and Bach specialist. Landowska
was not fooled for an instant and severely reprimanded Segovia and Ponce
for their deception. Guitarist and composer then scoured the textbooks
for some little known baroque composer who would fit the bill to continue
the charade and Leopold Silvius Weiss was suitably obscure to be the
perfect candidate. So it was that this totally concocted, but novel
work, generated the interest in rediscovering the genuine works of Weiss.
In their quest for playable material, guitarists have
continually mined the rich resources of the renaissance and baroque
lute works, of which there is a considerable amount. Dowland, Bacheler,
Johnson, Galilei, Kohaut and not least Bach, (there are probably more
accounts of his complete lute works on the guitar than on the lute),
plus the music of the Spanish vihuelistas Mudarra, Narváez, etc.,
have long been performed on the modern classical guitar. For the most
part this process has reflected a certain selectiveness, favoured pieces
being those considered appropriate for transcription. This left the
majority of pieces to the players of reproduction lutes and vihuelas
who emerged during the 1970s and 80s, Nigel North, Jakob Lindberg and
Paul O’Dette, etc.
It is in this respect that the single-minded lack of
selectiveness of Kurt Schneeweiß’s ambitious project to transcribe
the lute sonatas of Weiss for the modern guitar fails. When a musician
takes it upon himself to transcribe or adapt works in any way (in this
case from one fretted instrument to another) the results must be convincing,
so that the listener, although perhaps aware of transcription, is comfortable
with the outcome, which should be both entertaining and engaging as
a performance. For me Kurt Schneeweiß’s playing does not fulfil
any of these criteria.
Schneeweiß seems to treat each movement in an
altogether overtly free, almost improvised, way so that there is no
or very little allusion to any firm dance rhythms. There seems to be
little or no regard for the relative pulse or tempi that distinguish
allemande from minuet, from minuet to gigue etc., which are after all
central to the composite movements of the baroque sonata or suite. The
Ciacconna (Chaconne) concluding the Sonata No. 6 in E flat Major shows
no sense of the ground bass that normally is associated with, and is
the underlying basis for, such a work. So with no apparent structures
each movement seems to meander without sense of direction or purpose.
This results in an absence of character differentiating the individual
At the opening of the Sonata No. 4 in G major, for
some reason, we are treated to a quite inappropriate "Introduction"
of Kurt Schneeweiß’s own making (as we later encounter on disc
8 where we are presented with his own "Interkolomnium" and
"Entrée" at the beginning of Sonata No. 29). Even he
seems grateful that he has reached the end of some of the movements,
so unconvincingly and half-heartedly does he throw away the last chords.
This disc (No. 7) also contains some very untidy editing.
Weiss was probably the last great lutenist composer
of the baroque and today his music can still be most satisfying in the
hands of capable players of either the lute or guitar, in transcription.
Alas, I feel that Kurt Schneeweiß’s rather turgid, flat-landscaped
view of this music falls short of the mark and does little to enhance
the legacy that Weiss has left us.
A more satisfactory set of Sonatas by Weiss is currently
being issued by the Super budget label Naxos featuring Robert Barto
on the baroque lute. see
I would also recommend another disc, but difficult
to track down, Erik Tolstrup playing the music of Weiss on the eight-string
guitar (Barba 0997).