> Weiss Lute Sonatas transcribed for guitar [AD]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1686-1750)

Disc 1 [59:36]
Sonata No. 21 in G minor
Disc 2 [54:45]
Sonata No. 25 in A minor
Allegro in D major (Duet)
Menuet in A minor (Trio)
Fantasia in E minor
Disc 3 [63:23]
Sonata No. 1 in E major
Disc 4 [48:01]
Sonata No. 5 in C minor
Disc 5 [64.26]
Sonata No. 6 in E flat major
Disc 6 [70:50]
Sonata No. 14 in D major
Disc 7 [48:47]
Sonata No. 4 in G major
Disc 8 [52:57]
Sonata No. 29 in D minor
Disc 9 [46:21]
Sonata No. 2 in D major
Disc 10 [54:55]
Sonata No. 17 in F minor
Kurt Schneeweiß (guitar)
ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 74321 77063 2

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 sonatas.

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).

Andy Daly

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