ALBUM TITLE: Weiss
WORKS: Lute Sonata in A minor (L’Infidèle); Lute Sonata in C minor; in B flat; Prelude n E flat; Prelude in D minor; Ciaccona in E flat; Fugue in D minor
PERFORMER: Jakob Lindberg (lute)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS CD-1524
The German lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750), a near-contemporary of Bach, enjoyed European-wide fame in his lifetime. His career was almost brought to an end when a jealous French violinist bit Weiss’s thumb and put him out of action for some months. However, he survived to become the most highly paid musician at the Saxon court in Dresden. His highly imaginative and distinctive style spans an Italianate quality of inexorable drive, German counterpoint and harmonic invention, combined with French expressiveness.
These discs are wholly complementary, sharing no repertoire (unsurprisingly with over 600 extant pieces by Weiss) and played on lutes strikingly different in size and provenance. Barto’s is a huge instrument, 13 ‘courses’ (single strings on top, pairs below), developed to this size by Weiss himself, and ultimately self-destructing – few players could manage such a complex monster. Barto’s virtuosity is unquestionable and in his hands the lute virtually matches the harpsichord in compass, but with the added dimensions of dynamics shaping phrases, and a warm sonority emphasised by low-pitch tuning.
Weiss was a highly imaginative and distinctive composer. Delights abound: a strutting, lively Bourrée, a strangely un-danceable Minuet with irrational phrase-lengths, a Gigue full of free-wheeling repeated bars before the line dances onward. The final Presto on the recording is technically dazzling.
Lindberg’s programme celebrates the restoration of a very special instrument he bought 15 years ago. It dates from around 1590, originally a 7-8 course lute, repaired and expanded to 11 in 1715. He’s therefore selected from Weiss’ earlier music for smaller lute which makes great interpretational demands on its players – the programme includes a Fantasia without bar-lines in which the player determines the metrical pulse; a Ciaconna which grows in intensity through its seven variations; and a Prelude written as bare chords for the performer to expand into rhythmic figuration.
Lindberg treats his precious instrument tenderly. His intimate approach is often deeply moving: a quiet Sarabande with chains of seventh chords in slow free-fall; a languid Menuet in the final sonata. He’s surprisingly sparing with dynamics, rarely doing more than shaping the rise and fall of a phrase, and there are moments when his introspective playing disguises the pulse, self-evident to him as the player but less obvious to the listener. But such thoughtful playing left me with a sense of being a privileged eaves-dropper as Lindberg caresses his instrument.
Recorded sound is excellent on both discs, close but mercifully free of calloused fingers sliding noisily along strings. George Pratt