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The New York Times
June 18, 2000

Recordings: Bringing New Life to the Baroque Lute

by Bernard D. Sherman

WEISS: Lute Works.
Hopkinson Smith, lutenist. Astrée
Auvidis 8620, 8718; two CD's.

Sylvius Leopold Weiss probably did not worry much about posterity; few 18th-century musicians did. And posterity duly ignored Weiss, partly because there was nothing suitable on which to play his music. It was tailored for the Baroque lute, a sonorous but difficult instrument that largely disappeared within a generation of his death.

Weiss was a star performer in his day, but even then his music was hard to find, by his own choice. He published only one movement in his lifetime. "When you keep a piece only for yourself," he explained, "it always stays nice and new." But that attitude, a common one among itinerant Baroque virtuosos, did not stop Weiss and his students from writing down hundreds of his pieces. Most of them are still unpublished, although a complete edition is in process.

That edition is timely. Today we have something suitable on which to play Weiss, thanks to the modern revival of the Baroque lute. And the Weiss record catalog continues to grow.

Two new releases come from a notable figure in the Baroque lute revival, Hopkinson Smith. Mr. Smith's mastery is reason enough to listen; he extracts a beautiful sound from his lute and plays it with an improvisatory flair and a wealth of nuance. Just as important, the music is rich and wide-ranging. It is hard to imagine a more attractive introduction to Weiss's music.

Of the two discs, "Pièces de Luth" (8718) offers more music. Yet "Partitas Pour Luth" (8620) is perhaps even more appealing. A high point is the G major Partita, whose eight movements include an impressive Toccata and Fugue. Such music should keep posterity from forgetting Weiss any time soon.




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