The Baroque Lute in Vienna

Bernhard Hofstötter baroque lute
Brilliant Classics 95087

Bernhard Hofstötter’s excellent CD gives us a glimpse of the variety and quality of music for the baroque lute, which would have entertained well-to-do folk in Vienna in the 17th and 18th centuries, well before the time of Mozart and Beethoven. George Muffat’s Passacaglia was published in 1682, originally for strings and continuo, and appears here in an arrangement for lute from one of the Kremsmünster manuscripts (A-KR83a/1v). It is a fine piece, involving a cheerful dialogue between treble and bass, and a constantly changing sequence of interesting harmonies. Also published in 1682, was Jacques Bittner’s Tombeau, which creates a melancholic mood through slow descending notes and dissonant harmonies; Hofstötter’s source is the manuscript now in Klosterneuberg, close to Vienna. Denis Gaultier was French, but his “Dernière Courente” is followed by a nicely flowing Double by “Bertelli”, who is possibly the Viennese composer, Antonio Bertali.

Other tracks include an imaginative anonymous Folies d’Espagne with one section way up the neck, and a guitar-like finish; a short, lively Gigue de Angelis de Rome, possibly by the guitarist Angelo Michele Bartolotti; a suite by Wolff Jacob Lauffensteiner, with a grand Allemande, an invigorating Courante with brief switches from major to minor and back, and a short, cheerful Gigue; an arrangement of a mournful Menuet for flute and strings by C. W. R. von Gluck, where the slow, high melody is supported by quiet, constantly moving quavers; a virtuosic Sonata by Karl Kohaut exploiting the full range of the lute; and a long (over 10 minutes), dramatic Passacaglia by the violinist Heinrich von Biber, constructed over a slow, four-note descending bass, in a lute arrangement from Kremsmünster.

I very much like Hofstötter’s interpretation of this music. He sustains and shapes melodic lines well, and, without resorting to gimmicks, he lets the music speak for itself. This repertoire is not well known – twelve of the 19 tracks contain music which has not been recorded before – but it is well worth exploring further.

Stewart McCoy