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German lute music of the 17th and 18th centuries

[I] Esaias REUSNER (1636 - 1679): Delitiae Testudinis Vol. 2
Paul Beier, lute
rec: June 10 - 12, 2013, Nomaglio, S. Bartolomeo
Stradivarius - Str 33994 (© 2014) (77'45")
Liner-notes: E/I
Cover & track-list

Suite I in d minor; Suite II in F; Suite VI in e minor (allemande); Suite X in g minor; Suite XII in B flat

[II] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Complete music for lute"
Mario D'Agosto, lute
rec: January & April 2012, Asceo (Salerna), TVA Studio
Brilliant Classics - 94408 (© 2013) (1.45'25")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Fugue in g minor (BWV 1000); Prelude in c minor (BWV 999); Prelude, fugue and allegro in E flat (BWV 998); Suite (Partita) in c minor (BWV 997); Suite (Partita) in E (BWV 1006a); Suite in e minor (BWV 996); Suite in g minor (BWV 995)

[III] Johann Sebastian BACH & Silvius Leopold WEISS: "Lute Music"
Toyohiko Satoh, lute
rec: [z.d.], Kirishima, Miyama Conseru
Carpe Diem - CD-16305 (© 2015) (68'43")
Liner-notes: E/D/J
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Suite in G (BWV 1007) (transposed to C); Suite in C (BWV 1009) (transposed to G); Silvius Leopold WEISS (1657-1750): Ciacona in E flat (WeissSW 10.8); Ciacona in g minor (WeissSW 14.6); Ciacona in A (WeissSW 12.6)

Although the music on the present three discs has been written at different times, there is a clear connection between the first and the next two. With his suites Reusner is considered the trailblazer of Silvius Leopold Weiss, who for his part inspired his colleague Johann Sebastian Bach.

Esaias Reusner was born in Löwenberg in Silesia (now Lwówek Slaski, Poland) as the son of a lutenist of the same name who was also his first teacher. About 1645 the family moved to Breslau (Wroclaw, Poland) where Esaias junior entered the service of the Swedish general Count Wittenberg as a page. In 1651 he was employed at the court of Princess Radziwill where he received lute lessons from an unknown French lutenist. After his return to Breslau he started to work as a lutenist for Georg III, Duke of Silesia; he remained in his service until 1672. Having worked for one year as a teacher at Leipzig University he was chamber musician at the court of Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg in Berlin from 1674 until his death.

During his life two collections of music were published: Delitiae testudinis in 1667 and Neue Lauten-Früchte in 1676. Paul Beier focuses on the former collection and the present disc is the second instalment of what seems to be a complete recording. Reusner was the first German composer who embraced the style of the French lute school, undoubtedly under the influence of the French lutenist who was his teacher in Poland. This is reflected by the structure of his lute suites. They are among the first in the German-speaking world which include the four dances which were to become the heart of any suite: allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. In this programme the Suite X in G confines itself to these. The other suites include several additional dances, such as paduana and gavotte. The Suite I in d minor and the Suite II in F open with a praeludium.

Apparently the collection was received well. In the same year as the first publication it was reprinted with a dedication to the Habsburg emperor Leopold I before whom Reusner had played earlier that year. Another token of the appreciation of his lute suites is the fact that ten of them were published one year later in arrangements for violin, two viole da gamba and bc by Johann Georg Stanley, about whom nothing is known. Also notable is a third edition which appeared as late as 1697 which attests to the strong influence of Reusner's lute suites.

Unfortunately I have never heard the first volume in this project. This second volume is outstanding: the music is beautiful, and Beier's interpretation is speech-like, well articulated and dynamically differentiated. Those who enjoy this disc will certainly want to have the first volume as well.

Bach and the lute is a complicated subject. The composer himself probably didn't play the lute but knew several lutenists, including Weiss, and seems to have been well informed about the lute's possibilities. Seven works in the catalogue are regarded as lute works, although it is questionable whether they were originally intended for the lute. Some can only be convincingly executed if they are transposed. That is what Mario D'Agosto has done. Another option is the lute-harpsichord, and that opens the possibility of a performance on the 'conventional' harpsichord. In particular the Prelude, fugue and allegro in E flat (BWV 998) is often played on the harpsichord.

There is no lack of recordings of Bach's lute works. To be honest I can't see much room for the complete recording by Mario D'Agosto. This is mainly because his interpretations are largely disappointing. Anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows that I am in favour of clear dynamic accents which reflect the difference between good and bad notes. However, there is always the danger of exaggeration, and that is exactly what D'Agosto has fallen victim to. The accents are sometimes so strong that a piece gets the character of a march, especially as D'Agosto plays very strictly in time. One example is the fugue from BWV 998. He largely avoids rubato, and as a result the improvisational character of a piece like the prelude from the Suite in e minor (BWV 996) - which is rooted in the style of the North German organ school - isn't conveyed. It includes a fugal section which is too slow, and that also goes for the bourrée from that suite and for the Prelude, fugue and allegro in Es flat (BWV 998). The fugue from the Suite in c minor (BWV 997) is rather awkward and once again suffers from a rather slow tempo. The Suite in E (BWV 1006a) comes off best, although I am a little puzzled by the recording. It seems that the miking has been changed during the recording process. All in all these interpretations leave me rather unsatisfied. There are far better recordings on the market.

Toyohiko Satoh brings Bach and Weiss together in one recital. They were contemporaries, knew each other, and if Bach has indeed written a number of works specifically for the lute, they were probably intended for performances by the lute virtuoso Weiss who was also a member of the Dresden court orchestra. Pieces from Weiss' large oeuvre can be found in manuscript all over Europe, which attests to the great admiration he earned. Satoh selected three chaconnes, in E flat, A and g minor respectively. These receive engrossing performances from Satoh. Bach is not represented by any of the lute pieces as recorded by D'Agosto but rather with two suites originally written for the cello: the Suite in G (BWV 1007) (transposed to C) and the Suite in C (BWV 1009) (transposed to G). It is not uncommon for these to be played on the lute. Other artists have the same, and these suites lend themselves quite well for a performance on the lute. Satoh delivers beautiful performances but the tempi are often quite slow. This is not always a problem, but in a few pieces it is at odds with the dance rhythm, for instance in the bourrées from the respective suites and the concluding gigue from BWV 1009. In the preludes I prefer greater tempo liberties, which would have emphasized their improvisatory character. Satoh plays a very beautiful historical instrument: a lute by Laurentius Greiff from the first half of the 17th century. This contributes to the appeal of this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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Paul Beier

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