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Penguin Guide, January 2009

WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 1 (Barto) - Nos. 11, 42, 49 8.553773
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 2 (Barto) - Nos. 5, 25, 50 8.553988
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 3 (Barto) - Nos. 2, 27, 35 8.554350
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 4 (Barto) - Nos. 21, 37, 46 8.554557
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 5 (Barto) - Nos. 38, 43 / Tombeau sur la mort de M. Cajetan Baron d’Hartig 8.554833
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 6 (Barto) - Nos. 7, 23, 45 8.555722
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 7 (Barto) - Nos. 15, 48 8.557806
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 8 (Barto) - Nos. 19, 34, 36 8.570109
WEISS, S.L.: Lute Sonatas, Vol. 9 (Barto) - Nos. 32, 52, 94 8.570551

In layout Weiss’s Lute Sonatas are very much like the suites and partitas of Bach, usually beginning with a Prelude, followed by a group of dance movements: Allemande, Courante, Bourrée, Saranbande, Menuet and Gigue. Sometimes Weiss closes with a Chaconne (Suite 6), Passacaglia (Suite 14) or an unusual movement, like the striking Paysane which ends Suite 25. The music is invariably through-composed, so that every movement is interrelated, and although each has an independent thematic existence one sometimes has a sense of a set variations.

On Naxos Roberto playing a baroque lute, shows us the breadth of Weiss’s achievement and how naturally the music suits the lute, rather than the guitar. On almost all the discs offered so far he combines one early, one mid-period and one late Sonata.

The manuscripts of the Sonata in G minor (No. 5), which opens the second disc, was found in London. It is most winning work, spontaneously integrating its basic musical material throughout, with the central Courante and Bourrée particularly infections, and a jaunty finale.

No. 2 (8.554350), is another early work, found in the London manuscript. It too is all of a piece, so that the continued use of the remaining six movements very neatly. No. 35, written in D minor (the natural key of the baroque lute), is one of the composer’s last and most ambitious works, probably dating from the 1740s. The measured Allemande is harmonically exploratory, and even the finale, by use of the instrument’s lower tessitura, provides virtuosity without loss of gravitas.

No. 46 in A minor (8.554557) is another late work; it begins unusually, with a French Overture (though without the usual reprise of the opening section). This is another of Weiss’s most inspired and varied Sonatas, very outgoing, with a lively Bourrée, followed by a halcyon Sarabande, a pair of Minuets ( in A minor and A major) effectivekt contrasted in mood, and one of the composer’s bravura moto perpetuo finales.

No. 43 (8.554833) is one of the composer’s last works—and one of his finest. On the disc if follows immediately after the solemn Tombeau for Count Jan Anton Losy (a celebrated Bohemian nobleman and lutenist), and theSonata’s dignified opening Allemande might almost be a funeral march for the lamented Count. The A major Sonata (No. 45) isone of Weiss’s most mature works, coming from the 1740s.Like No. 50, it  has an Introduzzione, but this time in the form of a French Overture which introduced a theme a little like Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith.
Among the more recent issues is Sonata No. 52 in C minor. A large-scale work than most of the others, it includes another Overture as well as the usual dance movements and a closing Presto. It plays for 31 minutes and is very considerable work. Sonata No. 94 in G minor is less ambitious, but it has a rather melancholy opening and then lightens to cover a wide variety of mood in five movements and a comparatively modest time-saon.

But the quality of Weiss;s invention seems inexhaustible throughout all these works, and he has a worthy exponent in Robert Barto, a virtuoso lutenist if a high order and a fine musician. He understands this repertory perfectly, never seeking to impose his personality over that of the composer, and the first-class Naxos recording gives him a natural presence.

Paul Shoemaker
MusicWeb International, March 2007

The connection between Johann Sebastian Bach and Sylvius Leopold Weiss goes beyond their having virtually identical dates. The two men were friends and in his young adulthood, Bach admired the more famous Weiss very much and in my opinion wrote much of his music, if not for Weiss, at least with Weiss or someone like him in mind.

Weiss was the Paganini of his day, his virtuosity amazed and overwhelmed listeners and challenged composers. Bach re-wrote much of his music, probably more than we are aware of because we only have a small number of surviving manuscripts of earlier versions. As a young man, Bach would expect to hear his music played by lutenists and clavichordists, but as these instruments fell out of favor, he could see that this was less and less likely, so he rewrote pieces to make them more suitable for harpsichord, and finally fortepiano, performance. After poring through some German essays on the subject, I am convinced Bach probably did not play the lute himself, but was interested in achieving lute sonority on harpsichords, and had at least one such “lute-harpsichord*” in his possession when he died. Recently there have been recordings of the first book of the Well Tempered Klavier which used clavichord, harpsichord, organ, and fortepiano for the various preludes and fugues, but my feeling is that one should also include some performances on the lute as well. By the time of the second volume, it is my opinion that this is a fortepiano work, and that explains why Bach rewrote many of the earlier pieces for inclusion therein, not to make them “better” but to make them more suitable for performance on the fortepiano. Professor Richard Jones particularly needs to study this point. When Weiss died in the same year as Bach, the lute as a solo virtuoso instrument virtually died with him.

Bach wrote an astonishing quantity of the finest preludes and fugues ever done but he also wrote dance pieces for his keyboard suites and his works for solo instrument. Most Bach enthusiasts pay very little attention to these dance pieces, but what is interesting is that Weiss’ pieces in similar forms are very similar in style to Bach’s and heard on the lute they are delightful. Performance of these smaller works of Bach on the lute would probably make them much more comprehensible, and in fact we have just such an instance with Paul Galbraith’s performance of the Sonatas And Partitas for solo violin on his six string guitar. It is the smaller dance pieces which gain most from this arrangement — indeed they become interesting enough to be listened to all by themselves. And that is what we hear on this recording listening to similar dances by Weiss.

A recent biography of Bach by Martin Geck enlarges the spotlight, giving much information about the surrounding circumstances in which Bach lived, deepening our understand of Bach as a man who lived in a culture and reacted to it. Another crippling legacy of Victorian musicology falls; instead of seeing all the musicians around Bach as mere imitators, and hence safely to be ignored, we see instead that they formed a musical culture in which Bach was immersed and with which he interacted profitably. A familiarity with Weiss, who spent his professional life at Dresden, 60 miles from Leipzig, is valuable to an understanding of Bach. For a long time this has been all but impossible as the music of Weiss was unknown and unplayed, presumed lost; but now we have this excellent series.

Recording perspective on Volume 6 is closer than on Volume 2 and finger slide noises are more evident. The introduzione to Sonata No.45 has a fugato section that is somewhat reminiscent of Handel’s “Harmonious Blacksmith” followed by a very Bachian courante. The sprightly bourrée is more syncopated than most Bach. The sarabande is appropriately stately, touching but not sad. The menuet is, again, sprightly with musical leaps not usually heard in a menuet. The presto is just that, but not a fugue as it would be with Bach, but rather reminiscent of the allegro from Bach’s BWV 998, a lute work, likely influenced by Weiss. If someone told you this movement was by Bach — unusually playful Bach to be sure — you would have no reason to doubt it.

The suites are apparently numbered in order of composition, so following No.45, a late work, we come to No.7, a much earlier work, beginning not with a prelude or an introduzione, but directly with a stately and thoughtful allemande, followed by a fast and rather Bachian (but not fugal) courante. The gavotte is graceful, with typical leaps, the sarabande particularly lovely and affecting. The menuet is dramatic, the gigue is as rollicking and Bachian as it can get without being a fugue. Altogether this earlier work keeps its unique personality but is not in any sense lacking in quality. Suite No.23, a work from the middle years, begins with a arpeggiated chordal prelude which leads at once into an entrée, an embellished aria; and on with the usual set of dances, finishing with a swinging saltarella — which could pass for a hornpipe — and is probably the most interesting work on the disk, showing Barto’s skill in saving the best for last, which is also true of Volume 2, the last movement on which is possibly my single favorite work by Weiss.

Throughout Mr. Barto plays with lyricism, rhythmic integrity, expression, sweetness of tone and clarity of voice — that is, amazing skill. Overall he’s every bit as good as Lindberg, perhaps with a little more drama and softness, whereas Lindberg pushes the limit on dexterity and precision. I think I like Barto’s lute, which has many of the qualities of an alto guitar, more than Lindberg’s lute which tends to “run out of breath”, but that could have more to do with the recording engineer.

*Scholars are still unsure just what that instrument was.

Ivan March
Gramophone, July 2005

"The disc spans the range of Weiss’s career with the early C minor Sonata (No 7) actually dated 1706 by the young composer in pencil on the manuscript; the writing has a youthful precosity. Sonata No 23 in B flat probably dates from around 1720 and is unusual in having a pair each of bourrées, gavottes and minuets, of which the second in each case is rather more demanding of virtuosity than the first. Apart from the stately Sarabande, the Sonata is a light-hearted work, ending with a jaunty Saltarella. The A major Sonata (No 45) is a late work from the 1740s. Instead of a prelude it has an Introduzzione in the form of a French overture which introduces a theme a little like Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith. The rest of the Sonata shows the composer at his most ambitious. Canadian-born Robert Barto is in the process of recording all of these Suites for Naxos; the present issue is Volume 6. Barto gives first-class performances on a beautifully recorded period lute. With such enjoyable music this is a disc and series well worth exploring, for Weiss is always highly inventive."

Zane Turner
MusicWeb International, April 2005

"This new release on Naxos is the sixth volume in a series. A first class lutenist, Mr. Barto gives a polished performance that demonstrates strong empathy for the composer. This quality is always highly relevant to any performance. In such a specialty area it is of particular significance.

The Sonata No. 45 is quite delightful and reflects the Italian influence that Weiss acquired in that country during the period 1708-14 when he was in the service of Polish former royal family. It has been described as one of Weiss’s crowning achievements, and therefore among the greatest works for the instrument from any period.

This recording establishes yet another dimension of association between the lute and the guitar. Bonnie Silver and Norbert Kraft, who have together worked on most of the production and technical management of the excellent Naxos series for classical guitar, performed the same support for the review disc. Little wonder that it is "spot-on."

Those baroque lute enthusiasts who have enjoyed the first five volumes of lute sonatas by Weiss will find volume six irresistible. For those who may not have yet sampled the delights of Weiss, this new disc qualifies in every way as the perfect introduction."

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