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Ernst Gottlieb BARON (1696 - 1760): "Music for Lute Solo & Lute and Recorder"

Bernhard Hofstötter, lute; Bozhena Korchynska, recorder; Mariya Bil, cello

rec: August 1 - 4, 2021, Lviv, Ivan Franko Nationak University (Scientific Library); Church of St Lazarus
Brilliant Classics - 96080 (© 2022) (68'54")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Concerto for lute and recorder in d minor; Concerto for lute, oboe and cello in c minor; Concerto for lute, transverse flute and cello in G; Duet for lute and transverse flute in G; Partie for lute in F; Sonata for lute in B flat; Sonata for lute and transverse flute in G

The name of Ernst Gottlieb Baron is well-known among lovers of the lute. He was highly respected in his own time. Lorenz Christoph Mizler ranked him among the most important musicians of his time, alongside the likes of Johann Sebastian Bach, Telemann, Weiss and Stölzel. Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg mentioned his treatise Historisch-theoretische und practische Untersuchung des Instruments der Lauten (Nuremberg, 1727) in one breath with those of Johann Joachim Quantz and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Baron was born in Breslau (today Wroclaw), where he received his first lessons at the lute from a certain 'Kohott', then went to Leipzig to study philosophy and law, but never finished his studies. In 1720 he settled in Jena, where he studied keyboard and music theory with Jacob Adlung. He then travelled around, and in 1727 published his above-mentioned treatise. In 1728 he entered the service of Frederick II of Saxe-Gotha Altenburg, where Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel was Kapellmeister. When his employer died in 1732, he moved to Eisenach, where he worked in the court chapel until 1737. Next he entered the service of Frederick the Great, first in Ruppin and Rheinsberg, and from 1740 in Berlin. He remained at his court until his death.

Although Baron is well-known by name, his music is not often performed, and that is due to the relatively small number of works that have been preserved: around twelve suites for lute solo and ten pieces for lute and other instruments. Bernhard Hofstötter, in his liner-notes, may well be right in assuming that a large proportion of his works has been lost. His oeuvre is an exponent of the galant idiom. He was well aware of what had been written in earlier times - he retuned his lute in order to be able to play the music by Jean-Baptiste Besard (c1567-c1625) - as well as elsewhere in his own time. He criticized French composers for a lack of cantabile, which reveals his own stylistic preferences.

A large part of his output for lute solo is written in two parts, and relatively simple. Hofstötter states that such pieces may have been written for pupils. The present disc includes two more demanding works: the Sonata in B flat and the Partie in F. The term partie was frequently used for a suite. The sonata is also a suite and comprises six movements: fantasia, allegro, bourée, aria, rondeau, tempo di menuet. Many of Silvius Leopold Weiss's suites are also known as sonata. His name has to be mentioned here, as the Sonata in B flat is also attributed to him. Hofstötter discusses the issue, but does not come to a definitive conclusion. There are arguments in favour of Weiss, but also against this attribution. This and the quality of this piece justify its inclusion here.

The probably most interesting part of the programme are the pieces for lute with other instruments. In an ensemble the lute mostly played the basso continuo, alone or with other instruments. In two of the pieces included here, the lute part seems to be a kind of worked-out continuo part (Sonata in d minor, Sonata in G). In the other pieces, the lute plays a real obbligato role, and these parts are also technically more demanding. As the titles indicate, only one piece is intended for the recorder; the others are for transverse flute or oboe, some of them with cello. Hofstötter decided to perform all of them with recorder. I find that disappointing, and stylistically rather unconvincing. The recorder was certainly still played quite frequently, especially among amateurs. However, the transverse flute fits the galant idiom much better than the recorder. From a musical point of view, the balance in the ensemble pieces is rather unsatisfying, as it is very much in favour of the recorder. In the Concerto in G, for instance, the lute plays an obbligato part, which makes it the primary instrument in the ensemble. That position is undermined by the recorder, which is simply too loud. The Sonata in G includes a march; here Bozhena Korchynska makes use of overblowing, in order to play the highest notes. Are these required, or are they played an octave higher than written? I wonder how they would sound on the transverse flute, for which this part was conceived. I also would have liked to hear an oboe in the Concerto in c minor.

The decision to play all the ensemble pieces on the recorder is disappointing. Even so, this is a nice disc to have. As I indicated, Baron's music is not often performed and recorded, and this disc offers a nice survey of his output or, rather, what has been left of it. Hofstötter is an excellent player, who delivers impressive performances of the solo pieces and the lute parts in the ensemble pieces. Bozhena Korchynska and Mariya Bil are the perfect partners; they are new names to me, but deserve to be better-known. Both of them give a good account of themselves on their respective instruments.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Bernhard Hofstötter
Bozhena Korchynska

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