The music of Silvius Weiss will be a glorious discovery for YOU if this is the first you hear of him, but my review title refers to the discovery of a manuscript, from the family library of a castle in Rohrau, Austria, which includes previously unknown compositions not found in the only two other manuscripts of Weiss's work. The four suites and other pieces recorded on this CD come from that manuscript. As a lucky bonus, the manuscript also includes the 'lost' second lute part of the "Concerto in C major for two lutes", performed here by Bernhard Hofstötter and Dolores Costoyas. At the risk of redundancy, I have to say that the "Concerto" is a truly glorious piece of music.
Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) were exact contemporaries and close musical neighbors; Weiss held the position of 'court lutenist' as tenaciously for much of his life as Bach held his cantorship in Leipzig. It's documented that Weiss visited Bach in Leipzig, and it's widely supposed that Bach wrote his small body of lute music in response to Weiss's influence. In fact, no other familiar composer of the era sounds as much like Bach as Weiss does, in the specific genre of music for solo instrument. Almost any of Weiss's more ambitious suites could easily be mistaken for Bach's work. I don't think, however, that this is proof of "influence" in either direction; Bach and Weiss both worked within an "east" German musical idiom common to Saxony (Bach) and Silesia (Weiss). Weiss was the culminating 'scion' of several generations of professional lutenists just as Bach was the culminator of generations of cantors and composers. Weiss's entire surviving output consists of music for his own instrument, and there's little reason to suppose that he wrote in other genres. If he had, I'll wager that music also would have sounded like Bach.
But Weiss had traveled, as Bach never did. Weiss had gone as far as Rome, and he brought back the lute techniques and lute construction he learned there, if not the musical styles. He was the first to expand the elevn-course German lute to thirteen courses. His compositions were notoriously beyond the capabilities of most other performers; he was in short the supreme virtuoso of his instrument, and his pieces are challenging still. The best CDs of Weiss's music are two recordings by Jakob Lindberg, and they are dauntingly close to perfection. This CD, to my ears, comes closer to that standard than any other I've heard. Hofstötter and Costoyas have had similar training; both have studied with Hopkinson Smith and both have credits with some of the finest baroque ensembles in Europe. Unfortunately, the CD notes do not reveal which of the two plays what on this CD, but on the Concerto for Two Lutes they seem very well paired in "touch" and in phrasing.
Is there any instrument sweeter in timbre than the lute? More sublimely personal in timbre? But the pure resonance of the lute turns out to be hard to capture through a microphone on a digital CD. Once again, Lindberg leads. His two Weiss CDs are incomparably realistic in tone and 'present' in ambience. This CD comes awfully close, but if it has a minor flaw, it's the "closeness" of the miking, which allows us to hear a bit of 'fret noise' on some tracks. It's a subtle tapping sound, not unpleasant but slightly distracting. But it hardly matters in comparison to the lugubrious grunts one hears on a Pablo Casals CD or the tone-deaf muttering of Glenn Gould as he tortures the Goldberg Variations.
There's a multi-CD "Complete Weiss" available, performed on lute by Robert Barto, and there are some performances of Weiss on guitar, but none of them are anywhere near as excellent as this recording.
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