Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Lute Sonatas: Volume 10

Sonata No.28 in F major ‘Le fameux Corsaire’ (c.1719) [24:01]
Sonata No.40 in C major (c.1728) [38:26]
Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy (London MS Add.30387) (1721) [11:51]
Robert Barto (baroque lute)
rec. October 2008, St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, UK. DDD.
NAXOS 8.572219 [74:18]

This is the first volume in this established series to have come my way and it encourages me to investigate the earlier volumes - perhaps to be included in a future Download Roundup. If I had paid attention to the reviews of the earlier volumes by Jonathan Woolf and other colleagues, I’d already have known what to expect (see below).: As I was about to finalise this review, Jonathan Woolf has beaten me to the post again: his review of Volume 10 can be found here. It says all that I wanted to say about the Sonatas, so my detailed comments will be on the Tombeau.

After all those appreciative reviews, what more is there to say? My first encounter with the music of Weiss came courtesy of Julian Bream, playing the baroque guitar. That recording is still available on RCA Silver Seal, coupling a Weiss Suite in d minor with the Bach Lute Suite No.1, BWV996 and some shorter pieces by Bach, Sanz, Sor and Visée. Alternatively, the Bach, Visée and Weiss are coupled with Scarlatti on The Julian Bream Edition, Volume 9, RCA 09026 61592 2. Both are hard to come by; I can’t even find a current catalogue number for the Silver Seal - UK customers may need to import.

Bream was, of course, a pioneer in the rediscovery of the baroque guitar and lute repertoire. I wouldn’t for one moment wish to be without those volumes of the RCA Julian Bream Edition which I managed to purchase before most of the series was deleted, but modern performers such as Barto outshine him in one important respect. Though Bream seems to have captured the right style and to have empathised with the music from the start - the Silver Seal recordings were made as long ago as the mid-1960s - you have to tolerate a degree of extraneous noise, from fingers momentarily flicking the strings.

The miracle of modern performers such as Barto is the complete absence of these extraneous noises. I didn’t hear a single unwanted sound during the whole 74 minutes, and that inevitably added to my enjoyment of the playing. Barto is not alone in this respect, of course; other performers, such as Nigel North, share the ability - see my review of his Bach on the Lute (Linn CKD300), which I made Download of the Month in March, 2009.

Barto’s rival in Weiss, Jakob Lindberg, also has the ability to combine absolute affinity with the music with a flawless technique. He, too, seems to be embarked on an extended series of recordings of Weiss for BIS and he has made at least one recording of his music for the Polish Dux label. (DUX0581 - see review by Glyn Pursglove). I listened to his performance of the Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy on Volume 2 (BIS-CD-1534), courtesy of - a fine performance, which brings out the depth of feeling in the music, but which costs more than the Naxos, even in download form (mp3 £7.99, lossless £9.99).

Lindberg places the Tombeau in the centre of his programme; Barto concludes with it. I can’t say if this placement had any influence on my reaction, but I thought that he brought out all the pathos which Lindberg finds, together with an extra sense of warmth. I seem to recall that Logy had been Weiss’s teacher, though I can’t find confirmation in any of the books which I have to hand; if so, the relationship was personal and, in any case, the admiration seems to have been genuine. To say that Lindberg’s performance of the Tombeau is analytical and Barto’s emotive would be to stretch the contrast too far: both are good. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library who would like to make the comparison themselves can find both albums there - the Barto here and the Lindberg here.

A third version of the Tombeau, from Hopkinson Smith on Auvidis Astrée, fine player though he is, seems to me not quite in the same category - not as focused as the other two. There are just a few of .those extraneous noises here, too. The programme as a whole is worthwhile, coupling the Tombeau with a Sonata in a minor, Fantasia in C and Sonata 48 in f# minor. (E8718: see also Zane Turner’s enthusiastic review of another Hopkinson Smith recital on E8908).

Barto’s tenth volume of Weiss offers a most entertaining programme, well recorded - close but not over-close - and, as usual with Naxos, presented with short but informative notes and with a cover illustration from a contemporary painter. I shall watch out for future releases. It joins a recent recording of the early works of Sor, played by William Carter, as one of the most enjoyable instrumental recordings to which I have been listening recently. That Sor recording is on Linn CKD343 - on SACD and a variety of download formats: expect a more detailed recommendation in a future Download Roundup.

Brian Wilson 

see also review by Jonathan Woolf  

Reviews of previous volumes
Volumes 2 and 6 here
Volume 4 here
Volume 5 here
Volume 6 here
Volume 7 here and here
Volume 8 here
Volume 9 here