Silvius Leopold Weiss: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 11

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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.

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, MusicWeb International


Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) wrote approximately 83 billion lute sonatas, and this release constitutes Volume 11 in Naxos' ongoing complete series. The tray card describes them as "prodigiously attractive works of great emotional power." Attractive they certainly are, very much so, but "great emotional power"?--not so much. Let's face it: there's only so much that you can do with an overture or prelude and a standard suite of baroque dances--unless you're Bach, of course, and Weiss may have been an exact contemporary but he was no Bach.

That said, there is a wide range of size and shape to these three sonatas. No. 39, the "Partita Grande", is indeed substantial, lasting nearly half an hour and containing some extensively developed movements (including the virtuosic concluding Presto). The other two works, while ostensibly lighter in tone, pack a lot of variety into their respective groupings of seven movements apiece. Certainly Robert Barto plays beautifully, with crystal clear articulation and sweet timbre on a lovely-sounding baroque instrument.

I wouldn't listen to all 20 tracks at a sitting, but this well recorded disc does make great background to a Sunday drive (I tried it), and will keep you entertained whenever your attention becomes engaged. Really, there's no need to make greater claims for this music than it deserves: it's good stuff, performed with great insight and sympathy. Surely that's enough.

--David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572680

  • UPC: 747313268078

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Silvius Leopold Weiss

  • Performer: Robert Barto