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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.

American Record Guide, September 2008

This is the ninth volume of Mr Barto's cycle of Weiss sonatas for Naxos. …Barto has a fine grasp of the high baroque style and of Weiss's voice. These performances are consistently fluent, with graceful ornamentation and clear tone. I would prefer a greater range of timbre, dynamics, rhythmic flexibility, and differential ornamentation on repeats—the lute is limited on all these fronts, but others have found more variety.

The sonatas are not formally different from suites; there is the standard dance sequence with occasional variations. The notes give the impression that Sonata 95 is something of a stylistic change, echoing the preclassical revolution that was to displace the music of Bach and Weiss. But I hear little to distinguish it from his earlier works. If you're a fan of Weiss's music, these performances will give pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, June 2008

Robert Barto’s distinguished Weiss recordings for Naxos have now reached volume nine. As before he demonstrates a wide range of tone colours, immaculate technical address and an unerring appreciation of Weiss’ quasi-improvisational style. The result is a trio of performances that in every way meets the expectations now placed in the lutenist. And if none of these works approaches the majesty of those contained in, say volume seven of the series (see review) then one must also concede that they nevertheless contain all those elements that make Weiss so noble, so expressive and so powerfully important a composer in this milieu.

The C minor sonata, cast in six movements, is by some way the longest and grandest of the three here. The extensive French overture is beautifully nuanced in all three of its sections, Barto’s technical armoury entirely equal to the demands placed on it and his colouristic sense fully engaged from the start. The Campanella-like Bourée sees him emphasise the bell like articulation implicit within it and he does so with brilliant articulation. As ever he plays Weiss’s slow movement with affecting lyricism; the most impressive in this set is the Siciliana of this C minor, which is taken at a suitably slow tempo. The concerto-like flourishes of the Presto finale are despatched with aplomb, the writing rich and externalised, and the playing virtuosic.

The F major [No.32] is an earlier work written conjecturally some time between 1720 and 1725. It’s performed in the Dresden version as three copies survive, representing two different versions. Its Allemande is refined and leisurely and full of decorative assurance but for me the highlight is the Bourée. Not only is this an example of Weiss at his most uplifting but it also reveals some of Barto’s great strengths – an ability to infuse the music with the most buoyant and immaculate rhythmic incisiveness allied to great warmth of tonal resources. These qualities are heightened by the succeeding cantabile of the Sarabande and by the Gigue that concludes the sonata. One of the revisions undertaken by Weiss was to replace a Gigue in 6/8 with one in 9/8 and the result is engaging and buoyant.

The final work stands at a slight remove from its companions. The G minor No.94 derives from a manuscript in the Glinka Museum in Moscow, music conjecturally brought to Russia from Dresden by Weiss’ pupil Bielogradsky. Whatever the exact origin or derivation it’s a small, charming series of dances with a delightful Paisane and a rare, early use of the Polonaise in its penultimate movement.

The recording, made in St Andrew’s Church, Toddington, is once again first class and Tim Crawford’s notes enhance this characteristically fine disc. Barto has competitors in Weiss recordings – Imamura and Lindberg among them - but for my money he is the most eloquent of them all, and this comprehensive series is a tribute to his skill and involvement.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

Sylvius Leopold Weiss composed the most extensive catalogue of lute music attributed to one composer, leaving in excess of six hundred works

Sylvius Leopold Weiss composed the most extensive catalogue of lute music attributed to one composer, leaving in excess of six hundred works on his death in 1750. Many were in the form of Sonatas - also described as Suites or Serenatas - and were originally intended for his own performance as one of the leading virtuosos of his time. Built from dance movements - such as the Minuet and Gavotte - they were combined to create works of substantial length and very varied in mood. Mixing French elegance with the brilliant colours that he had heard during years spent in Italy, they were designed to extend the technical capabilities of the performer. This new release contains one of the most extensive Sonatas, the Fifty-second in C minor, its six movements playing for more than half an hour. The Thirty-second makes use of low notes which places it after 1717 when the much enlarged thirteen-course lute was introduced, the fist time such notes were possible. The third work on the disc is his Ninety-fourth and known as the ‘Moscow Sonata’, the score found in a Moscow museum and probably taken to Russia by one of his pupils. Unattributed it does ‘seem’ to have been by Weiss, but it is not definite. Often technically demanding, these are not works that draw to listener to that fact.They are played by the American lutenist, Robert Barto, a performer who has specialised in music from this era, his unexaggerated musicianship having drawn universal acclaim. Maybe his left hand is here not always as fluid as the ornamentations demand, and some of the playing can sound laboured. I would have liked the Siciliana of the Fifty-second to have moved a little quicker, but it is always elegant, and impeccably shaped playing. The recording is outstanding in capturing the intrinsic sound of a large lute.

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