This disc is like a bowl of candy, for anyone who loves Baroque music and lute music especially. I certainly do and the "Bach/Weiss" Suite for Lute and Violin in A Major is just sublime. The works by the three lesser known composers are also very fine, and one delight following another is the result on this album. I'm only adding here information about Weiss and the connection with Bach-you can read about the other composers (and more info on Bach/Weiss) in the booklet notes.
Silvius Leopold Weiss was, and still is, regarded as the greatest of all lutenists, and the instrument fell into decline within two decades of his death. An evaluation by the Markgrafin Wilhelmine de Bayreuth, sister of Frederick II of Prussia and herself a composer, would serve well as epitaph: "Weiss excels so much in playing the Lute that no one has ever matched him, and those who will come after him will only be left with the glory of imitating him"
Weiss was one of the most important and most prolific composers of lute music in history and one of the best-known and most technically accomplished lutenists of his day. He wrote around 600 pieces for lute, most of them grouped into 'sonatas' (not to be confused with the later classical sonata, based on sonata form) or suites, which consist mostly of Baroque dance pieces. Weiss also wrote originally extensive repertory of chamber music, lute duets, and concertos, but only the solo parts have survived; in every case the parts that accompany the solo lute are lost. Some of his "Suonate" (Weiss's own term) for solo lute, which have come down to us in a variety of tablature manuscripts, are missing their preludes, which were usually improvised. Seventy suites, however, are known in their entirety; most last about 20 to 25 minutes in performance. As a composer, Weiss shows extraordinary originality; his suites stand comparison with those of J.S. Bach. Only one of the suites, No. 49 in B flat minor, appeared in print during Weiss' own lifetime; his work was not intended for amateur players but for virtuosi whose skills approached his own.
Weiss's music is characterized by a unique understanding of the capabilities of his instrument, and its strengths and its weaknesses. Like J.S. Bach's, it represents the culmination of a high Baroque style a little at odds with the more progressive aspirations of his younger contemporaries. Weiss was also in demand as a teacher. His many aristocratic pupils included the young Frederick the Great and his sisters Wilhelmena (later Margravine of Bayreutlt) and Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia, and his other pupils included the lutenists Adam Falckenhagen and Johann Kropffganss (whose own music is on this recording)
|Silvius Leopold Weiss|
Silvius Leopold Weiss's skill as a player and accompanist was legendary, as were his powers of improvisation. In this he was even compared with J.S. Bach, though it is doubtful whether they actually formally competed in improvisation, as the following account by Johann Friedrich Reichardt describes:
"Anyone who knows how difficult it is to play harmonic modulations and good counterpoint on the lute will be surprised and full of disbelief to hear from eyewitnesses that Weiss, the great lutenist, challenged J. S. Bach, the great harpsichordist and organist, at playing fantasies and fugues."
Weiss and J.S. Bach had been in all probability well known to one another even before they actually met. In later life, Weiss became a friend of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. During 1739 Weiss stayed in Leipzig for four weeks (together with W.F. Bach and his own pupil Johann Kropffganss) and he visited the J.S. Bach house frequently. Johann Elias Bach, J.S. Bach's personal secretary, reports that the music he heard then was 'extra-special'. He wrote that "we heard some very fine music when my cousin from Dresden (Wilhelm Friedemann Bach) came to stay for four weeks, together with the famous lute-player Mr. Weiss". J.S. Bach's Suite for violin and harpsichord in A major BWV 1025, which was finally identified as an arrangement of one of Weiss' lute sonatas, likely owes its origin to one of these legendary meetings. It's quite special to these ears!