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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Lute Sonatas - Volume 8
Sonata No.36 in D minor [24:01]
Sonata No.19 in F major (1719) [23:03]
Sonata No.34 in D minor [16:07]
Robert Barto (lute)
rec. Green Room, Offord Hall, Aurora, Ontario, October 2005
NAXOS 8.570109 [63:19]

I’ve reviewed Barto’s Weiss before (see review). Nothing in volume eight has given me any reason to mitigate, diminish or qualify the admiration for his playing that I expressed in volume seven. This is eloquent, technically adroit, textually sensitive and emotively distinguished playing by anyone’s standards.

Sonata Thirty-Six finds Barto balancing the broadly serene with dextrous control of melody lines. His slow movements are invariably powerfully expressive and in his hands the colours he evokes in the lower reaches of his Andrew Rutherford lute (New York, 1996) are a source of engagement and admiration. As before one finds the heart in Weiss’s Sarabandes and in one sense the heart of Barto’s playing resides in them as well.

The Sonata No.19, provisionally dated to 1719, has a lyrically flowing Allemande at its heart and is played with such dextrous control by Barto that its six and a half minutes pass with intense rapidly. The unusual Gigue that ends this sonata is nevertheless played with real verve and exciting dynamism.

Sonata No.34 is the longest of the three works in this volume. This was one of the pieces of his that had achieved a small vogue before the Second World War. Foremost amongst its very finest qualities are those that reflect the influence of J.S. Bach. All movements respond to Barto’s eager and sensitive playing – the tangy lower strings in the Bourée are a particular pleasure. And whilst it’s true that the Sarabande here is more compact and less intense than most other similar movements in his works its “stripped down” quality attests to a more concentrated core lyricism, one that bears its simplicity with nobility.

There is a rival Weiss series on Claves though I’ve heard no performances that overlap. On the evidence of only one disc by Yasunori Imamura I would hesitantly suggest that the Claves player employs rather more dynamic shadings than Barto and maybe more rubato as well. This – one has to stress again, on limited audition – leads me to think that Imamura’s Sarabandes and Allemandes are that much slower than Barto’s and that his approach generally marries a certain improvisatory quality with a broad approach to tempi. Time will tell.

Barto’s cycle however is impressive. The music on this volume doesn’t quite reach the heights of that on volume seven but adherents will waste no opportunities to acquaint themselves with this latest success.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Mark Sealy



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