Schubert sonatas

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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Lute Sonatas: Volume 7
Lute Sonata No.15 in B flat major [24:45]
Lute Sonata No.48 in F sharp minor [35:20]
Robert Barto (baroque lute)
rec. Offord Hall, Aurora, Ontario, February 2005.
NAXOS 8.557806 [60:05]

Weiss, the great eighteenth century lutenist and composer, has been memorably served in this disc, the seventh in Robert Barto’s complete survey. I’ve not caught up with any of the other volumes but if this one is representative of the general standard then I can say nothing finer than that both composer and performer kept me engrossed for an hour, without distraction or intercession.
As a contemporary of J.S. Bach it is perhaps inevitable that he should share certain stylistic imperatives. The shared Italian influence is the most obvious but what emerges from both these sonatas – the later sonata may be technically the finer but the B flat major is hardly less impressive – is Weiss’s absolute command of each dance idiom, the expressive potential embodied in the Sarabandes and the mighty sonority of Weiss’s thirteen-course baroque lute with its magnificent sonority. I have been critical of one or two guitar records from Naxos with ruinously intrusive shifts but Barto proves a master here.
The depth and warmth of the Barto sound is a significant point in the success of this disc. Technically impeccable despite the myriad difficulties he faces, he manages to evoke the sound-worlds of each movement with lyricism and with flair. The extended bass notes ring out fully but with rounded tone. The buoyancy of the Courante of the B flat major Sonata belies the troublesome nature of the silent shifts. When it comes to the Sarabande Barto brings great humanity and dextrous warmth to bear. In the difficult Menuet – though Barto as ever never gives one the impression that it’s difficult - the rhythmic brio is pronounced.
The later F sharp minor sonata is an even more magnificent work. The subtlety and range of coloration in the opening Allemande are matched by the deftness of the dynamics Barto employs but even these are mightily eclipsed by the Courante. Here the expansive, ceaselessly imaginative lines twist and curl, nobly projected, with dramatic bass line pointing adding its own drama – as deep as a fortepiano and more resonant. The Sarabande is one of gravity and inevitability and the Presto finale, once more teeming with digital problems, is projected with wonderful élan. The articulation and the runs are of crystalline precision; the amount of detail is breathtaking.
The flowing elasticity of both these sonatas is memorable and the performances, ideally recorded in the Green Room of Offord Hall in Aurora in Ontario, equally so. Truly a marvellous disc.
Jonathan Woolf 


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Reviews of other issues in the Naxos Weiss lute sonata series

Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6


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