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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Lute Sonatas: Volume 10
Sonata No. 28 in F Le fameux Corsaire [24:06]
Sonata No. 40 in C [38:13]
Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy [11:51]
Robert Barto (lute)
rec. 7-9 October, 2008, St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire, England
NAXOS 8.572219 [74:09]

Experience Classicsonline

Silvius Leopold Weiss was a near-exact contemporary of Johann Sebastian Bach; the composers were born two years apart (Bach first) and died three months apart in 1750 (Bach first again). Weiss devoted his life to playing and teaching the lute, penning an extraordinary series of lute sonatas which this Naxos project attempts to record in full. It is a daunting task, given that the website lists 98 works in the series - though several of them are lost. Luckily, the series has so far proved that Weiss’s lute music is worthy of the treatment, and of the attention of world-class lutenist Robert Barto. I now own four volumes of the series, Vols. 7-10, and each whets my appetite for the next.
Weiss’s sonatas are, for the most part, devoted to traditional structure in name but surprisingly daring in actual content. They bring the usual baroque mix of allemandes, courantes, minuets, and sarabandes, but Weiss is constantly tinkering with these forms, expanding them to hold his own spacious imagination for melodic material and emotional import. Sometimes, as on this disc, courantes take on the tenor and length of fantasies, and previous issues have included minuets with multiple trios, movements of unending melody-spinning, pedal points and counterpoint, and a sarabande (on Volume 7) which begins, trickily, in disguise as a minuet.
As for the emotional tenor of the sonatas, they range from introverted, brooding works like the two sonatas in D minor on Volume 8 to sunny salon music, always eloquent, written to give the player modest technical demands and even greater expressive ones. Robert Barto has been consistently up to the task, with grace and a beautifully improvisatory approach which has, in past volumes, made me think of Weiss as a sort of baroque Chopin.
For this tenth volume, Barto brings us two of Weiss’s more outgoing works, beginning with the Sonata No. 28 in F major, Le fameux Corsaire, an outdoorsy charmer of a piece with lively dance movements and, one imagines fancifully, a fresh breeze of sea air. The subtitle, however, seems to have arisen not because the music has anything to do with pirates or the ocean, but, perhaps, simply because it was a catchy name. Who knows? Maybe a corsair with a patient ear for this type of musical good cheer would be happy to call it his own.
The Sonata No. 40, in C, is an epic of the form, nearing the 40 minute mark! But Weiss never wastes his time, whether in the gently rocking courante or the paysanne, the shortest movement but one of the most tuneful. The sonata’s eight-minute sarabande never grows old, a testament to Weiss’s skill in creating and then skilfully varying his melodic material. Movements like these emphasize Barto’s own instinct for quasi-improvisatory playing; he makes the carefully ornamented movement seem like a fresh invention of his own. And the equally long finale, which begins with a strong sense of purpose and never relents, made me glad that Barto honors every repeat in these scores. As the movement wends its way to a deeply satisfying conclusion, with a wonderful sense of homecoming, I immediately wished I could hear those last few moments again. Wish granted: the repeat let me hear it all once more!
The Tombeau sur la mort de M. Comte de Logy provides a moving close to the CD; here, to commemorate the death of one of Europe’s premiere lutenists, Weiss curtails his gift for melodic riches and slows down the pace for a plainspoken elegy on the simplest of themes.
As those who have heard the previous volumes in the series will expect, Robert Barto’s playing is perfect; the Weiss series has justifiably solidified his reputation as one of the greatest lutenists alive. As in previous volumes, Barto plays a lute by Andrew Rutherford, based on the 13-course instrument invented by Weiss himself. Sound quality, like everything else here, is exemplary.
In other words, this series continues to be an excellent introduction to the musical world of a great composer, in the hands of a lutenist with few equals. Collectors will need this album and anyone with an interest in the baroque era who has missed these discs so far is left no excuse. Robert Barto’s series of the Weiss lute sonatas is one of the most important, and most artistically accomplished, recording projects in baroque music today.
Brian Reinhart

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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