Weiss & Hasse

Jadran Duncumb baroque lute
Audax Records ADX13713

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or his first solo CD Jadran Duncumb has recorded music by Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783) and Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750), composers who were good friends, and worked together as musicians in Dresden. Tracks 1-2 are from a manuscript (Leipzig, Musikbibliothek der Stadt, Becker III.11.46b) of four keyboard sonatas by Hasse intabulated for the lute ( “IV Suonate di Hasse accommodate per il Liuto fatte per La Real Delfina di Francia”. The dedicatee was Maria Josepha of Saxony, daughter of Frederick Augustus II, Prince-Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. In 1747 she married the French Dauphin Louis Ferdinand and became mother to three kings of France: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. The original keyboard setting for some of the sonatas is given towards the end of the manuscript, but there is none for the fourth Sonata, the one recorded as a world premiere by Jadran Duncumb. However, the keyboard setting can be found on IMSLP (search for “Hasse, Johann Adolf” and “2 Sonate da camera per cembalo solo”). Duncomb sticks closely to the 18th-century intabulation for the Allegretto, adding his own tasteful decorations for repeated sections, which includes re-instating two answering phrases in the bass, which the intabulator had omitted to make the piece easier to play. Duncumb re-instates much that was left out of the Allegro, in particular pairs of thirds, turning it into a particularly difficult piece, which he plays with panache. Maria Josepha would have been impressed.

Tracks 10-12 are another keyboard sonata by Hasse in an arrangement for baroque lute. Both settings are in the same manuscript, Becker III.11.46c. The arranger intabulates the melody down an octave, which takes it as low as the 7th course on the lute. Many of the bass notes are intabulated down an octave too, resulting in a low tessitura, with the low, unstopped diapasons very much in evidence. Duncumb does well to maintain clarity at this end of the lute’s range, but he cannot prevent long open strings ringing on, muddying the water, particularly in fast passages. (A little Blu-Tack on the strings at the bridge might have helped.) Triplet semiquavers race effortlessly up and down the neck, and there are pleasing contrasts of loud and soft passages. His Allegro is spot on – fast, exciting, with lots of impetus to please a foot-tapping audience, yet far from mechanical, with subtle give and take between delicate well-shaped phrases, and somehow he manages to squeeze in some slick ornaments. Towards the end are three extraordinary bars of arpeggiated demisemiquavers, followed by a final flourish to top f”. As with all treble notes, the 18th-century arranger intabulates these last notes down an octave, but Duncumb will have none of it. He restores the original keyboard pitch, and shoots up to the 12th fret of his lute, where he waits with a dramatic pause before descending for the final cadence. It is a stunning performance. The Moderato is characterised by a succession of Scottish snaps, some of which he converts into triplets, together with a variety of extra notes, ornaments and fast little runs, to enhance the repeats. The Presto proceeds at a good pace, although at that speed many of the low, unstopped strings are a blur.

There are three items by Silvius Leopold Weiss. The first is the Sonata in D minor (SW35), noticeably different in texture from the Hasse pieces, because it was composed for the lute, not adapted from keyboard music. There is a welcome freshness and clarity of line, enhanced by Duncumb’s 13-course lute built by Tony Johnson, as Weiss exploits the full range of the instrument. This Sonata is one of Weiss’s mature works, with some extraordinary shifts of harmony in the Allemande, Adagio, followed by a lengthy Courante. it is a fine Sonata full of surprises and imaginative changes of direction. Duncumb gives the final Allegro the passion of Beethoven at his fieriest. The other Weiss pieces are the well-known Passacaglia in D major (SW 18/6) and the Prelude in C minor (SW 27/1). The latter is listed correctly in the liner notes, but incorrectly on the back cover.
Unfortunately there is a downside to this recording. I admire Duncumb’s skill, his impeccable technique, and his mature understanding of the music he plays. He really is a fine player, playing with sensitivity and vitality, yet his performance is marred by his loud, heavy breathing. Even before the first note sounds, he starts frantically gasping for air as if he were in danger of drowning, and the noise continues unabated up to the last note. When the music is over, the gasping stops, and he returns to normal. I don’t suppose he gasps like that when he plays football, so why do it playing the lute? It is an unwelcome distraction, and I sincerely hope he can do something to curtail it.

Stewart McCoy

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