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Silvius Leopold WEISS (1687 - 1750): "Lute Concerti"

Gwyn Roberts, transverse flute; Richard Stone, lute
Tempesta di Mare
Dir: Richard Stone, Gwyn Roberts

rec: June 8 - 12, 2002, Philadelphia, Church of Santa Maria Maddalena de' Piazzi
Chandos - CHAN0707 (© 2004) (76'12")

Concerto a 5 in c (SC 90); Concerto for lute and strings in d minor (SC 58); Concerto for lute and strings in F (SC 53); Concerto for lute and transverse flute in F (SC 9); Concerto for lute and transverse flute in B flat (SC 6); Concerto grosso in B flat (SC 57)

If one looks at the work lists of composers of the 17th and 18th centuries, one word frequently appears: "lost". Nobody knows how many compostions from the baroque era have disappeared, but considering the demand for music and the disasters which caused compositions to be destroyed, the number must be considerable. From time to time compositions thought to be lost are rediscovered, but in many cases one has to accept that they are lost forever. Often that is a shame, but in the case of the most brilliant composers the thought potential masterpieces have disappeared forever is almost unbearable. Sometimes compositions have been handed down incompletely. In that case an attempt can be made to reconstruct wat is missing. Since composing was under strict rules in pre-romantic times, often it is not that difficult to fill in the missing parts. But the more is lacking the harder it gets. This disc presents six pieces for instrumental ensemble by Weiss, which have been reconstructed by Richard Stone.

Silvius Leopold Weiss is exclusively associated with the lute. Having learnt to play the instrument from his father he became an extremely successful lutenist. In 1706 he entered the service of Count Carl Philipp of the Palatinate. From 1710 to 1714 he went to Italy, where he stayed mainly in Rome and worked with the Scarlattis. After his return he became associated with the court in Dresden, where in 1718 he was officially appointed to the chapel. Here he became one of the most distinguished musicians: in 1744 he was the highest paid instrumentalist at the court. Apparently he didn't only perform as a soloist, but also in ensembles. During his membership of the chapel he had several opportunities to travel through Europe: he visited Prague in 1717 and 1719 and again, this time with so distinguished players as Quantz and Carl Heinrich Graun, in 1723, Vienna in 1718, Munich in 1722 (with Buffardin, one of Europe's best flautists) and Berlin in 1728 (with Quantz, Buffardin and the violinist Pisendel). He also was much in demand as teacher; among his pupils are Falckenhagen and Kropfgans. His compositions are exclusively written for the lute. Of no other composer of lute music in history so many compositions are known.
Like Bach, who greatly admired Weiss and arranged some of his music, he was a representative of the goûts-réünis, mixing French and Italian elements.

This disc concentrates on an aspect of Weiss's compositional output that has been neglected so far: his pieces for instrumental ensemble. The problem is that none of these works have survived complete: only the lute parts are extant. "Richard Stone has reconstructed the flute and bowed-string parts heard on this recording by using motifs drawn from the lute part where appropriate, and by studying concerted works by composers whose music Weiss would have known", Douglas Alton Smith writes in the liner notes.

It is no doubt a huge undertaking to reconstruct all the parts needed to make these compositions sound like real ensemble pieces. In the end it is difficult to tell what part of this music is by Weiss and what by Stone. If the music on this disc isn't always very interesting, who of these two is to blame?

The best compositions are the first two items, the Concerto in C in Vivaldian style, and the Concerto in d minor, which follows the pattern of the sonata da chiesa, perhaps written under the influence of Corelli's sonatas. Another rather good work is the Concerto for lute and strings in F. The main weaknesses are the concertos for lute and transverse flute. They have their moments too, like the first two movements of the Concerto in F (SC 9), but they are followed by an 'amoroso' and an allegro, which dwell too long on thematic material that isn't very interesting. The same is true for the last item, the Concerto in B flat (SC 6). In the Concerto grosso in B flat the concertino is played by lute, transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and cello, which is a rather unusual combination. There are some nice passages here, but as a whole it is one of the less convincing items on the programme.

If the music isn't always as engaging as one would hope this is certainly not due to a lack of commitment by the players. Both Richard Stone and Gwyn Roberts, who play the central role on this disc, are doing an excellent job. And so do their colleagues. One of the highlights is the Concerto in d minor, which is played with verve and passion. The first movement (largo) is very expressive, the allegro which follows it is brisk and sprightly, played with a very differentiated articulation and a nice forward drive from the cello.

The question remains: does it make sense to reconstruct compositions of which so little original material has survived? Do we get a better picture of Weiss as a composer? In the end all these compositions are speculative: this is how they could have sounded. But nobody knows for sure. The thought that compositions of brilliant composers are lost is almost unbearable but there is nothing we can do than accept it as a fact of life.

Johan van Veen (© 2004)

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