Silvius Leopold Weiss’ Weiss Lute Concerti

Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) was, during his lifetime, hailed as the greatest lutenist and composer for the lute in Europe, known among connoisseurs for the largest surviving body of solo works for the lute. Lutenist and Weiss scholar Richard Stone has established that there is also a body of Weiss’ surviving works for the lute in concert, including duets, trios, and full concerti. Many of these, perhaps most of both the solo and concerted works, were composed for noble patrons — Weiss spent his entire career in the service of royalty and the aristocracy, including long tenure in the orchestra of the court of Saxony.

The works presented on this disc are reconstructions by Stone of six of Weiss’s concerted works for lute, based on the surviving sections, mostly the lute parts, and the modes illustrated in the music of Weiss’ contemporaries. Taken together, they offer an intriguing survey of works by a largely forgotten composer that reflect the scope of an instrument that more often calls up images of medieval troubadours than the glittering courts of the eighteenth century.

On reflection, it really is no surprise that works for the lute fully illustrate the music of the Baroque. The Concerto a cinque in C major, a three-movement work in what commentator Douglas Alton Smith calls “the classic Vivaldi mode,” begins with a bright, energetic allegro that flows into a lilting andante and finally into a lively but relatively restrained minuet. Contrast this with the almost melancholy beginning of the Concerto in D minor, a four-movement piece much more akin to the concerti of Corelli, in which there is a strong dialogue between the violins and solo lute in this work, as in the Concerto if F major, that provides a rich texture to the music.

The two double concerti for lute and flute are notable for the simple fact that they are truly dual in nature — the flute and lute trade solo parts back and forth, rather than one being featured while the other serves mostly as a continuo. An aside to those who are more familiar with the later, Classical and Romantic idea of “concerto”: the two works performed on this disc by Stone and recorder soloist Gwyn Roberts are what we think of as “duets” or “double sonatas” rather than full-scale concerti. Both are elegantly and sensitively rendered (with able support in the B flat major by Ann Marie Morgon on viola da gamba), and reveal a spirit of adventure on the part of both performers: these are not cut and dried, “standard” Baroque performances.

As a whole, the works by Weiss presented on this collection are of extreme interest, in all likelihood, to connoisseurs of Baroque music. For the more casual listener, however, they do offer delightful rewards. The figures Weiss used (or Stone used in his reconstructions) are not revolutionary to anyone familiar with Baroque music; there are sections that are predictable, but the music manages to save itself from cliché. We are left with a group of elegant, graceful works that very well embody what we think of as Baroque music at its most civilized. Particularly as relates to the literature for the lute, we are obviously hearing the works of a master.

The recording is clear and vivid, and accompanied by concise and informative notes by Douglas Alton Smith, providing biographical information on Weiss and a brief analysis of the works.

Tempesta di Mare itself, led by co-founders and artistic directors Stone and Roberts, is superb. Even in a recording, one can sense the degree of commitment and sheer joy the players bring to their work. The entire collection is marked by clarity and precision — Stone’s playing is characterized by a very clean kind of elegance, echoed fully by Roberts’ work on the flute and the solid support of the ensemble as a whole. This is a group that has generated a great deal of interest since its formation in 1996, and on the basis of this recording, I would say it is well deserved.

(Chandos, 2004)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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