Weiss: Lute sonatas/Schneiderman

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Silvius Leopold Weiss, most celebrated lutenist of the 18th century and the instrument’s most prolific composer, served in the musically illustrious Dresden court, was well-traveled (including several artistically important years in Italy), enjoyed the respect and friendship of the Bach family, and after his death was pretty much forgotten–until recently. Of his more than 600 surviving solo lute works, most are organized into suites (identified as “sonatas”), and this recording features Nos. 1-4–all in the key of F major–found in one of two substantial manuscripts (the other one resides in the British Library). Comparisons of Weiss’ music with that of J.S. Bach are inevitable, not only because the two composers knew each other and were exact contemporaries, but because they shared common stylistic propensities–that is, they had a certain taste for Italian musical mannerisms which, to varying degrees of mastery, they incorporated into German structural forms. Although Bach was by far the superior contrapuntalist and melodist, and operated in an altogether different conceptual universe, Weiss applied his ideas to the unique sonic qualities and technical possibilities of the lute–and as such created a sophisticated and unsurpassed body of work that’s also immediately accessible even to listeners unfamiliar with this repertoire or instrument.

John Schneiderman is one of today’s finest practitioners of Baroque lute music, and he brings a commanding technique and confident interpretive approach to these pieces, which he performs on an instrument of substantial body and penetrating tone. He’s appropriately fluid where long-running melodic passages are concerned, yet he manages to bring out lots of linear detail among different voices while relishing the instrument’s red-blooded timbre. The most engaging moments occur during the thoughtful sarabandes and the unfailingly memorable (and irresistibly catchy) gigues that end all but one of the four suites. These aren’t masterpieces on the level of Bach’s better efforts, but they are well worth hearing, and they’re intimately and realistically recorded on this 1999 studio production, engineered and produced by Schneiderman himself. [12/18/2001]

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Recording Details:

SILVIUS LEOPOLD WEISS - Volume 1--The Dresden Manuscript: Lute Sonatas 1-4 in F major

  • John Schneiderman (lute)

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