Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE COURT OF BAYREUTH • Miguel Yisrael (lt) • BRILLIANT 94026 (62:05)
HAGEN Sonatas: in F; in B?. FALCKENHAGEN Sonatas: in g; in E?. SCHEIDLER Variations in F
One of the Enduring Myths of music history is that the lute and its music fell into eclipse after the death of the great Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686–1750). In truth, it’s more accurate to speak of a mini-Renaissance. In Germany, the second half of the 18th century was a time of considerable activity for lutenist-composers, and much of it centered on the court of Friederike Sophie Wilhelmine at Bayreuth. Wilhelmine was the older sister of Frederick the Great, and like her brother a talented amateur musician. Whereas the flute-playing Frederick engaged the
great J. J. Quantz as court musician and private flute teacher, Wilhelmine, who was a harpsichordist as well as a lutenist, employed two prominent lutenist-composers, Adam Falckenhagen (1697–1761) and later his pupil Joachim Bernard Hagen (1720–87). Both wrote in the most up-to-date style of the day, the so-called Empfindsamer Stil or style galant (both Frederick and Wilhelmine would have preferred the French term). The instrument of choice was the 11-, 12-, or 13-course Baroque lute, alternately known as the theorbo, which in one form or another had been a mainstay of the Baroque orchestra since the early 1600s. But the lute had come a long way since the Renaissance. By mid century, composers discovered that the instrument possessed sufficient volume and projection to compete against a small string ensemble in a concerto. Yet the lute’s primary attribute had always been one of expression (unlike the harpsichord), and so it invited composers as diverse as Weiss, Falckenhagen, Hagen, Weiss’s pupil Johann Kropfgans (1708–71), Ernst Gottlieb Baron (1696–1760), Rudolf Straube (1717–80), and Karl Kohaut (1726–82) to write in a more personal, expressive manner that aligned itself with the emerging late 18th-century aesthetic.
Miguel Yisrael is a young Portuguese lutenist and guitarist who studied with Hopkinson Smith in Basel and currently resides in Paris. He is a competent, expressive player who has all the latest scholarship at his fingertips. One of the technical challenges that every Baroque lutenist must overcome (it doesn’t seem to be an issue with the Renaissance lute) is the resonant “halo”—a similar situation exists with the harp. A Baroque lutenist must be careful to dampen the unwanted notes—this is particularly true of the unfretted bass courses—but there is always a background resonance that never seems to go away. Occasionally Yisrael lets the softest notes of phrases fall below this resonant threshold and the melodic continuity is lost. This is by no means a disaster; it simply highlights what a difficult instrument the Baroque lute really is.
Of the works on this CD, I’m drawn to those of Falckenhagen. His G-Minor Sonata begins with a remarkable Largo, full of suspenseful, dissonant chords that move over a brooding bass line. The E?-Sonata, in a most unbecoming key for an instrument tuned in D Minor, begins with another imposing Largo and concludes with a breathtaking Vivace. The genial Variations in F of Scheidler, based on an aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, is notable for being the last published solo for the lute. Hagen’s two sonatas are the most forward-looking on the program, with chromatic melodies and jarring dissonances reminiscent of Emanuel Bach. In all, an enjoyable recital, but I feel that other lutenists such as John Schneiderman and Robert Barto are more successful in taming the unruliness of the Baroque lute.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
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