This attractively presented disc is not the same one recorded by Japanese-French lutenist Yasunori Imamura for the Capriccio label in 1998, even though the keys of the two lute sonatas, and the presence of a central pair of shorter works, makes the program look almost identical. Sylvius Leopold Weiss was nearly an exact contemporary of Bach's, and the notes by Beat Hänggi contend that were it not for the difficulty and obscurity of the lute, he would be nearly as well known as today. That's hard to swallow, considering the versatility of Bach's talents and the fact that Weiss occupies one small corner of the Baroque musical universe. Nevertheless, Bach is thought to have admired Weiss' playing, and may have written lute music for him. The comparison has some validity.
Like Sebastian Bach and François Couperin, Sylvius Leopold Weiss came from and continued a musical tradition. His father was Johann Jakob Weiss, his brother was Johann Sigismund Weiss, and his son was Johann Adolph Faustinius Weiss. Also, like Bach and Couperin, Sylvius Leopold was the most famous member of his musical clan, and during his long and distinguished career he taught a number of students who would become exceptional lutenists, Adam Falckenhagen and Johann Kropfgans among them. Following demands created by his exceptional reputation, Weiss traveled extensively before he settled at the court of Augustus the Strong in 1728; he remained there for the rest of his life. Weiss and Bach certainly met on more than one occasion as the latter visited his son Wilhelm Friedemann and also had an interest in music-making at the Saxon court. As a performer, Weiss was considered the finest of his time and many believed that his ability as a lutenist rivaled that of Bach as an organist and Scarlatti as a harpsichordist. His Berlin colleague, Ernst Gottlieb Baron, mentioned to a “Weissian Method,” probably a reference to his astounding and masterful technique, not to mention his style. Hundreds of Weiss’s works survive, chief among them six-movement sonatas or partitas that follow the accepted blueprint for the genre, i.e., Allemande, Courante, Bouree, Sarabande, Minuet, and Gigue.
It is a pleasure to see the rerelease of Paul Beier's first effort on the Baroque Lute, recorded in a small church in Switzerland nearly twenty years ago. He had originally planned a program that included the works presented here, plus the suite in E minor by Bach, but after editing we found that the total time of the recording was over 90 minutes, and so sacrificed the Bach suite to be able to release the CD (which can hold no more than 80 minutes worth of music).
This is now the third disc I have heard by the master lutenist Jakob Lindberg of the eloquent music of Sylvius Weiss. Weiss sweetly combines elegance and sentiment in a manner that is both intellectually and sensually satisfying. To my ears, Lindberg portrays the music perfectly, the sensitive Sarabande in the Sonata in C as well as the ensuing minuet, the tension of the opening of the Tombeau sur la Mort de M. Comte de Logy as well as the devastatingly sober theme. The Tombeau is an almost 12-minute piece at a tempo that crawls rather than walks, and yet it holds the attention.
In 1991 lutenist Jakob Lindberg bought a very special instrument – one of the rare extant lutes by Sixtus Rauwolf, built c. 1590. The restoration of the lute took several years and was rather painstaking: for some repairs they even used ancient wood from the library in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. Considering the great age of the instrument it was nevertheless in good shape and is now probably the only one in the world that, retaining its original soundboard, is in playable condition.
Duo Ahlert & Schwab have dedicated themselves, through their choice of instruments, to one of the smallest repertoires to be found in the classical music pantheon, that for guitar and mandolin. On this Naxos' effort, Daniel Ahlert plays the mandolin, and Birgit Schwab takes Baroque guitar and archlute parts in works of Sylvius Leopold Weiss and Giovanni Hoffmann. Being German, they identify Giovanni Hoffmann under the wholly inauthentic name of "Johann Hoffmann," which can lead to some confusion.