Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687-1750)
Lute Sonatas - Volume 11
Sonata No. 39 in C, Partita Grande [27:58]
Sonata No. 96 in G [15:34]
Sonata No. 30 in E flat [22:11]
Robert Barto (lute)
rec. 18-20 November 2010, St Thomas a Becket Church, Pagham, West Sussex, England
NAXOS 8.572680 [65:43]

I ask to review each new issue of Robert Barto’s series, comprising the complete lute sonatas of Silvius Leopold Weiss, even though I know every review is going to sound exactly the same: this is at or near the pinnacle of baroque lute music, nearly every sonata generous with its lyrical breadth, emotional engagement, and dance elements, and there could hardly be a better performer for the music than Robert Barto. By now, on the eleventh volume, the uniquely piquant sound of his thirteen-course baroque lute, constructed by New Yorker Andrew Rutherford, is as familiar to the series’ devotees as the sensitivity with which Barto plays it. Familiar, too, is the close miking which yields maybe the only gripe I’ve had about these discs: turn the volume up too much and you’ll hear the performer’s every breath.
The three sonatas on this disc present Weiss in his happier, more placid vein. Sonata No 96 packs seven tiny movements (mostly peppy court dances) into fifteen minutes, posing fewer challenges to the performer but offering the listener bite-sized delights. No 39 in C, by contrast, is known as the ‘Partita Grande’ because it takes up nearly a half-hour. In it Weiss takes care to work out his material to an unusual degree of development, including a courante with a long, leaping main theme which seems to flow as one stream through the movement, and a weighty presto finale whose complexes of motifs are dispatched with Barto’s typical unruffled clarity. Sonata No 30 opens with a free-form prelude which the booklet says is representative of Weiss’s improvisatory way with the form. The improvisational feel returns at the end, in a sprightly movement titled ‘Le Sans Souci’ that bounds along for just two-and-a-half minutes.
The sound is intimate and warm; the breathing mentioned earlier doesn’t much bother me, to be honest. This isn’t concert-hall music anyway. The booklet essay provides a very good introduction to the enterprise. To sum up: Weiss’s sonatas may not always feature the concentrated intellectual and emotional power of the solo sonatas by Bach, but each has its own delights and pleasures. I am a hopeless addict to this music and to the outstandingly high quality with which it is presented; there are a great many sonatas left to record even after eleven CDs, and if MusicWeb International doesn’t keep sending me review copies the alternative may be bankruptcy.
Brian Reinhart

This series is as addictive as ever, and for newcomers to some of the finest baroque-era lute music, Volume 11 would be a good introduction.