Weiss: Lute Sonatas Vol 8 / Robert Barto

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Silvius Leopold Weiss loved the lute. An exact contemporary of J.S. Bach, he worked in the Dresden court composing hundreds of lute pieces. This volume by American Robert Barto is the eighth in his Naxos series.

For a variety of reasons - including an interdict on their distribution by his patron and the fact that many survive only in tablature, not to mention their extreme difficulty - it’s a wonder that we’re able to hear them at all. The provenance, near destruction and geographical scattering - collections exist in London and Dresden - make teeth-chattering reading. Indeed a sonata on the already-published Volume 1 (Naxos 8.553773) was misidentified as Number 36: it should be Number 11. This is all the more unnerving when one remembers in what high esteem Weiss was held both in Germany as lutenist while still alive, and subsequently by musicologists aware of his gifts and tantalised by the wished-for prospect of his having written music other than for the lute.

Barto presents three sonatas on this CD: Numbers 36, 19 and 34. It can be said from the start that the playing is sharp and expressive and thus that the CD can be immediately recommended. It will be interesting to see how a ‘rival’ series by Yasunori Imamura on Claves - so far only Volume 1 has been released on 50-2613 - compares. Barto’s approach more earthy than Imamura’s with slightly more poise and a ‘stringier’ sound; perhaps even more downright accomplished. Each has its merits and each more than passes muster. Reviews of previous volumes in the Naxos/Barto series on MusicWeb have been enthusiastic. Volume 8 is no exception.

Sonata - we should probably call it a Suite - 36 is highly typical of Weiss’s later approach: a three-part texture in cantabile style. It’s a lovely, gentle, work with intricacies and simplicities in equal measure. At times redolent of Bach - listen to the development of the end of the allegro, tr. 6, for example - the six movements follow one another like a happy, dancing couple.

Number 19 is harmonically conservative and shies away from anything at all angular or extrovert, though the music is full of impact and makes special use of folk dances. After listening to the Sonata, one seems to have experienced as much as heard the tunes, the overt and hidden rhythms and the contrasts between movements. Barto is highly skilled at leading us through that experience.

Number 34 is one of Weiss’s most popular sonatas and evidently was used for teaching. But it’s no simplified exercise. With superb part-writing and luminous, improvisatory singing sequences, it contains arguably the most lovely music on this CD.

If you’ve been collecting Barto’s Naxos Weiss series until now, you’ll need no encouragement to buy this latest volume. If you haven’t come across it yet, this is as good a place to start as any. If it’s the sound of the lute you’re after, then Weiss’s expertise drawing out every nuance will thrill and reward.

-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8570109

  • UPC: 747313010974

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Silvius Leopold Weiss

  • Performer: Robert Barto