Bach & Weiss

Bach & Weiss
Music For Baroque Violin & Lute
Johannes Pramsohler & Jadran Duncumb
Audax Records ADX13706. 77’32

JS Bach/Weiss: Suite in A Major (BWV 1025) arr. for violin and obligato lute
Weiss: Suite in A Minor for baroque lute
JS Bach: Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BWV 1004)

The inspiration for this CD is the opening work, an arrangement for violin and obligato lute of the Bach/Weiss A Major Suite (BWV 1025). The whole of the programme note is given over to explaining the complicated background and source history of this piece, leaving the other two works in the programme to “speak for themselves”. The distinguished lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss knew the Bach family well. He was a friend of WF Bach in Dresden and sponsor of CPE Bach’s application for a post in the Prussian court. In 1739 Weiss visited JS Bach in Leipzig, together with WF Bach, staying for around four weeks. During that time they indulged in friendly improvisation contests, including playing fantasias and fugues, Bach on harpsichord, Weiss on lute. Bach’s private secretary wrote: “Something extra special is happening here.”

For this recording, Johannes Pramsohler and Jadran Duncumb have reconstructed one possible outcome of the visit, the Suite in A Major, BWV 1025, seemingly an arrangement by JS Bach for harpsichord and violin of an original lute piece by Weiss. It is not entirely clear from the sources how Bach made his arrangement, but it seems likely that he added a violin part to a keyboard transcription of Weiss’s lute piece, presumably with some help from Weiss because, as far as we know, JS Bach was not proficient at reading lute tablature. 

The Bach/Weiss Suite is followed by two solo works, first for lute and then violin, the well-known Partita in D Minor with its majestic concluding Ciaconna. The recordings were made in the Gustav-Mahler Saal of the Grand Hotel Toblach. Mahler spent three summers in this former railway hotel where he composed Das Lied von der Erde, the 9th Symphony, and started the unfinished 10th symphony. The two solo tracks were recorded a year later than the Suite, in the same hall, but with an audibly different recording environment. For the Weiss lute solo, the microphones seem to have been a lot closer. Although it was occasionally audible in the Bach/Weiss Suite, on the Weiss solo lute Suite in A Minor, Jadran Duncumb’s prominent breathing is extremely distracting. It should never have got past the pre-recording tests of the on-site production team. For the concluding violin solo, the background acoustic of the hall is far more evident, resulting in a rather boomy aural bloom. The recording quality of the opening duet is far more successful.

Despite my quibbles about the recording, the playing of both players is excellent, Johannes Pramsohler, in particular, demonstrating his sensitive and musical approach to music making. The Sarabande of the violin Partita is particularly well played, the tentative approach almost suggesting an improvisation. The following Giga relishes impressive on-the-edge of your seat virtuosity within a strong rhythmic pulse. And, of course, then comes the famed Ciaccona, played here with an emphasis on strength rather than subtlety of expression.

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