Galanterie: Music for Lute by Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750), vol. 3

Nigel North lute
BGS Records BGS 125

This is Nigel North’s third volume of music by Weiss, in which he plays a Parthie in D minor, a Sonata in C minor, and a Sonata in F minor. Weiss’s works have been catalogued by Douglas Alton Smith, “The Late Sonatas of Silvius Leopold Weiss”, Stanford University, Ph.D. 1977 [SM], and more recently by Tim Crawford and Douglas Alton Smith in Silvius Leopold Weiss, Sämtliche Werke für Laute in Tabulatur und Übertragung / Complete Works for Lute in Tablature and Transcription  [SC], so it is a pity there are no SM or SC numbers to identify which the pieces are in the present CD. All of them appear in one or both of the two main sources of Weiss’s music – London, British Library, Add. MS 30387  [not 3038 as given incorrectly in the liner notes], and Dresden, Landesbibliothek, MS Mus. 2841-V-1  – but it is not always clear which of these sources is used for each track of the CD.

The Partie in D minor consists of seven movements: SM 241, 55-60; SC 11.7, 11.1-6. It begins with a prelude-like Fantasia from the Dresden manuscript, followed by an extremely ornate Allemande. North describes the Courante and Gavotte as “the strongest contenders for galanterie.” The Sarabande uses almost the whole range of the lute, starting with a top d” at the ninth fret, and a bass line which slowly works its way down to bottom A at the 13th course for the final cadence.

The Sonata in C minor consists of eight movements: SM 173-180; SC 27.1-8. The Sarabande and Angloise (La Belle Tiroloise) are in E flat major. The latter appears in Track 14 with the Rigaudon, which is played twice, with and without repeats. The music is sprightly, but the range of notes is low-lying and the overall tone is fairly lugubrious.

The Sonata in F minor is easy to track down, since it is the only Sonata by Weiss in that key: SM 128-133; SC 21.1-6. North gives an unhurried performance of the Allemande, allowing time for the music to breathe. There are many appoggiaturas from above and below to which he tastefully adds extra notes of his own on the repeats. A dramatic diminished seventh chord with a low E natural on the 9th course presages the final cadence. The Courante flows along smoothly, although he waits rather a long time on the first quaver of the first full bar of each section. He plays the Bourrée before the Sarabande in the order of the Dresden manuscript. In the Sarabande, after a passage of emphatic thirds, Weiss uses extremes of pitch to heighten the final climax; the melody rises to a high d” flat at the 8th fret of the first course underpinned by a low B flat on the 12th course. That B flat is repeated in the next bar to create an unexpected third inversion of C major, as part of the final cadence leading to F minor. There is an interesting effect in the Tempo di Menuetto – the bass is quite sparse, and drops out completely here and there, leaving the running quavers of the treble unaccompanied. The Gigue has an ear-catching opening theme of repeated notes, which returns for the last few bars. What is so pleasing is North’s tone quality – sweet treble notes which sing, and unobtrusive bass notes which do not ring on too long. He creates a variety of tone colour which is consistently pleasant on the ears. He plays a 13-course lute by the Swedish maker, Lars Jönsson, although he is pictured on the cover of the CD holding a seven-course renaissance lute. Weiss’s music is always excellent, and North’s interpretation is masterful.

Stewart McCoy