Weiss in Nostalgia
Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Suites from the London Manuscript
Alex McCartney, Baroque lute
Veterum Musica VM019. 48’41
Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) is the go-to composer for all lute and early guitar performers. He was born, and started his professional life, in Breslau Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland) before moving to a number of the German-speaking courts, culminating in a post at the Dresden Court of Augustus II (der Starke: the Strong), where he was the most highly paid musician. The London manuscript GB-Lbl30387 contains about half of Weiss’s known music, including the two Suites recorded here (in F & d). It was purchased by the British Library in 1877, and was probably put together in Prague some time after 1730
Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas
Audax ADX13713. 57’19
Hasse: Sonata in A; Sonata in E flat major
Weiss: Sonata in D minor; Prelude in C minor; Passacaglia in D major
Rather like the mythical dying swan, the lute went through something of a peak as it approached its ultimate decline, along with the Baroque era that had provided it with so much music. The pieces here recorded by Silvius Leopold Weiss and Johann Adolph Hasse, close colleagues in the Dresden court orchestra, are amongst the last gasps of a centuries-old genre and represent a final flowering – until, of course, the last few decades. The two Hasse Sonatas were originally composed for harpsichord, but survive in a simplified transcription for lute, although for this premiere recording Jadran Duncomb has reinstated some of the original keyboard notes of the opening Sonata in A. This, and the Sonata in E flat (which is far from simplified in the lute arrangement), represent the move towards the Gallant style. They are from a set of four Sonatas dedicated to the wife of French Dauphin, the daughter of the Saxon Elector. Continue reading
The Famous Weiss David Miller, baroque lutes 68’21
Sonata No 5 in D minor, Prelude & Fantasie in C minor, Sonata No 30 in G minor, Prelude in D major, Campanella in D major, Passagaille in D major, Giga in D major.
The thoughtful and reflective mood of the opening D minor Prelude sets the scene for this enthralling CD of lute music by Silvius Leopold Weiss. I was introduced to the music of Weiss by David Miller in a Dartington concert in the mid 90s. An almost exact contemporary of JS Bach and Handel, Weiss spent time in Rome (alongside Handel and Scarlatti) before settling as lutenist to the Dresden Court. His visit to Berlin produced the ‘Famous Weiss’ comment from the sister of the future Frederick the Great.
The two Sonatas (in practice, multi-movement Suites) from the Dresden manuscripts are nicely contrasted, the simpler D minor suite forming a foil to the more substantial, elaborate and musically advanced G minor set. Of the six other pieces from a British Library manuscript, the Prelude in C minor, with its distinctive octave opening, shows Weiss’s imaginative use of harmonic modulation, a factor specifically mentioned in relation to a competition with Bach in Dresden. As the opening Prelude demonstrates, David Miller plays with a particular sensitivity to musical ebb and flow, as well as producing a beautifully rich and refined tone.
There is an informative video made during the recording process at http://www.timespanrecordings.co.uk/david-miller—baroque-lute.html.