Stolen Roses

Xavier Díaz-Latorre lute
passacaille 1030
Music by Bach, Biber, Telemann, Weiss & Westhoff

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his excellent CD of baroque music, most of it “stolen” from violinists, begins with a most extraordinary piece to be played on the lute: The Guardian Angel Passagalia, which completes Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Mystery Sonatas. It was composed for solo violin, and it is interesting to see how Díaz-Latorre uses the lute to enhance Biber’s original work. The descending bass line – G, F, E flat, D – is heard alone at the beginning, with gravitas, two octaves below the pitch of the violin. Then a slowish melody is heard above for two statements of the ground, while the harmony of Biber’s thin two-part texture is enriched by a fuller texture on the lute. Thereafter though, apart from adding numerous ornaments and a run-up to a tasteful cadenza of his own before the notes of the ground return from the top of the texture to the bottom, Díaz-Latorre reproduces Biber’s notes for the most part just as they were. It is a fine performance, with impressive technical skill and clarity of tone, from slow, dignified, chordal passages to exciting sequences of sparkling hemidemisemiquavers racing up to the higher reaches of the lute.

There follows J. S. Bach’s well-known Suite for the Lute in G minor (BWV 995) – “Pièces pour la Luth à Monsieur Schouster” – composed originally for the cello, but re-arranged by Bach. Díaz-Latorre plays a 13-course lute by Grant Tomlinson, and the low A of the 13th course is effective in the opening Präludium. The long Presto proceeds apace, but with nicely shaped phrases, unhurried until the last group of descending semiquavers accelerates to the final cadence. After a highly ornamented Allemande, comes a Courante, which doesn’t quite flow as it could, because Díaz-Latorre keeps switching between égales and inégales quavers. The Suite ends with a fine Gigue, which hops and skips along energetically with nice interplay between treble and bass.

In contrasting style – with less dissonance and fewer diminished sevenths – is Georg Philipp Telemann’s Fantasia 1 in B flat, one of twelve composed for solo violin, and published in Hamburg in 1735. A nicely poised Largo, a super-slick Allegro, a well-sustained Grave, and an exciting Allegro, are most effective in Díaz-Latorre’s arrangement for baroque lute.

Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705) was a violinist at the Hofkapelle in Dresden. His Suite in A minor is one of six for unaccompanied violin, and like the other “stolen roses”, sounds very well on the lute. (A facsimile of the original may be seen on IMSLP, with its curious stave lines split into groups of 3+2+3, white quavers for the Courante, and a Sarabande with three semibreves per bar.) Westhoff’s music has a surprisingly rich texture for an instrument with only four strings – many 3- and 4-note chords and parallel thirds – and Díaz-Latorre tastefully adds extra bass notes and ornaments. The Gigue has a lighter texture, with a chromatic descending opening motif imitated in the bass.

Most impressive is Díaz-Latorre’s performance of Bach’s Ciaccona from the second Partita for solo violin (BWV 1004). The piece consists of many contrasting sections, which Díaz-Latorre transfers well to the lute. He adds ornaments here and there, and where the violin texture is thin, he adds suitable bass notes discreetly and effectively to underpin the harmony. The speed and clarity of his demisemiquavers is breathtaking, and the first arpeggio passage has all the excitement of a flamenco guitar.

The CD ends with a bonus track: Fantasia in C minor by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, the only piece not stolen from other instruments. With this enthralling collection of “stolen roses” Xaxier is in danger of giving theft a good name.

Stewart McCoy

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