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Jonathan Woolf
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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Sonata No.20 in D minor [18:17] ¹
Sonata No.14 [16:45] ¹
Johann HOFFMANN (1770-c.1814)

Sonata in G major [17:24] ²
Sonata in D minor [13:39] ²
Birgit Schwab (baroque lute ¹. Archlute²)
Daniel Ahlert (mandolin)
Rec. Museum Huelsmann, Bielefeld, September 2005
NAXOS 8.557716 [65:55]

Somewhat patchy all round.

One of the most impressive series of discs devoted to the lute sonatas of Weiss comes from Robert Barto whose Naxos recordings have been consistently impressive and a source of much admiration; I’ve reviewed him on this site and he seems to me to be one of the most fully equipped lute players currently before the public. Whilst hoping that they will continue to tape Barto until there’s nothing left for him to record, we need to take a detour with this latest Weiss entrant, one that springs a surprise.

Firstly it conjoins Weiss with the much later Viennese composer Johann Hoffmann. And secondly it takes incomplete works by Weiss. The scorings may be complete but only the lute part has survived. The British Library copies of the two sonatas have no scoring indications and the performers here have decided to rewrite the sonatas for lute and mandolin. This contentious decision gives life to the works but what sort of life is it?

It’s true that Weiss composed for the combination of two lutes and for lute and flute but nowhere so far as is known for lute and mandolin. The notes, which are very sketchy and have an acreage of white paper, rather half heartedly suggest that it’s "very probable that Weiss would have encountered mandolin players" amongst the Italian players in Dresden. And possibly not.

The more acidic mandolin contrasts strongly with the lute. This arrangements work best in those passages where echo effects bring a certain vivacity and drama to the writing, such as La Badinage from the D minor sonata. These dialogue pages work well but sometimes the phrasing sounds too heavy. The same sonata’s Sicilien doesn’t come to life and the heavy accents rather hinder things. In the companion work the Menuett responds best and the Adagio least well. The former has the advantage of crisp articulation and speed, the latter falls prey to an unlikely sonority and sounds correspondingly stodgy and imperfectly sustained.

Hoffmann’s sonatas were composed for mandolin and bass – probably cello though Hoffmann’s contemporary Giuliani specified that a lute and archlute could be substituted. In the two Naxos performances we duly have the duo of archlute and mandolin. The three-movement sonatas are variously virtuosic and melodic and the combination sounds more natural and convincing than the Weiss sonatas. The Rondeau of the G minor has some witty ritardandi, good dynamics and some engaging Turkish themes. And the Andante con variazione of the D minor is felicitously shaped and well played. Throughout I felt that Birgit Schwab and Daniel Ahlert were more comfortable in the later idiom than in Weiss’.

Somewhat patchy all round.

Jonathan Woolf


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