Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lute Suites: in e,
; in g,
. Lute Partitas: in c,
; in E,
. Prelude in c,
. Fugue in g,
Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro
, BWV 998
class="ARIAL12">Mario D’Agosto (lt)
BRILLIANT 94408 (2 CDs: 105:43)
Johann Sebastian Bach’s music for lute has been something of a question mark. It is known that one of his friends was Silvius Leopold Weiss, and he was certainly aware of Johann Christian Weyrauch, whose tablature was widespread during the later years of Bach’s lifetime and who apparently adapted this to some of Bach’s music performed on this disc. That there was an active group of lutenists in and around Leipzig also is an historical fact, but just how much of it had an impact on Bach is a matter of debate. Certainly Weiss was highly regarded, for Bach adapted a lute sonata by him as a suite for violin and continuo (BWV 1025). But the lute only appears sporadically in Bach’s original works, such as both the
St. John Passion
s, as well as a couple of cantatas. Here, however, the usage is more as a continuo instrument with a few solo licks, and so one must ask whether any of the works in this collection are really traceable back to Bach himself as original compositions for the instrument.
Lautenist Mario d’Agosto sidesteps the issue, though he does note that at least the four suites (here noted as suites or partitas) do exist in Bach’s autograph. These are, however, either arrangements of suites for other instruments—BWV 1006a, for example, was originally written for violin—or ambiguous in their designations, such as BWV 996, which most probably was originally for harpsichord or a hybrid keyboard instrument called a
. He even notes that the pieces mostly required some transposition to fit the normal Baroque lute, which he does (though he does acknowledge it in his notes).
So, how do they sound? The answer is generally very well, though of course the texture is thinner (for which the recording often has a fair amount of reverb added to give it depth). There is no doubt that under d’Agosto’s capable hands the intricacies of the music are deftly done. The inner voices, particularly in movements such as the opening Prelude of the E-Minor Suite, are quite clear. There is, or course, a certain static quality of the instrument, which does not allow for too much contrast, and I find that smaller doses than both discs increases the enjoyment of the music. As with any instrument like a lute, the swishing sound of movement of the fingers on the neck is distinctly audible at times, which cannot be helped. And in the pieces such as the G-Minor Fugue the themes are clear, but as the multiple voices enter I find the harmony becomes a bit muddy, forcing the lute to thin out the texture.
The final verdict on this two-disc set is rather more ambivalent than I had expected. My own personal taste runs to the originals of these transcriptions, for therein I find many of the musical nuances that the lute transcriptions provide only with difficulty. That being said, d’Agosto’s playing is quite excellent, and is a good example for fretted instrument players to follow. There is a certain static quality of the music, which may be endemic to the works themselves, and then of course there is the overriding issue of whether the claim for complete lute works by Bach has to be interpreted in a singular fashion. Still, if you want something rather interesting and are willing to view these pieces in the light cast by the lute, then you will probably find them quite appealing.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
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