During the Valletta International Baroque Festival, there have been several concerts which have included the lute or its larger cousin, the theorbo, played in consort with other instruments. The concert held at All Souls Church in Valletta turned to the solo lute with a recital given by the German lutenist Andreas Martin of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Johann Jacob Froberger.

Andreas Martin
Andreas Martin

The instrument that most performers of these works usually employ is the 13-course baroque lute tuned to D Minor. However, Martin has chosen to use a single-strung archlute in G to perform these works. This works extremely well and it is possible to hear clearly the counterpoint which is sometimes lost in performances on the D-minor tuned instrument.

At the start of the recital, Martin achieved an instant rapport with the audience with a short introduction in which he explained that he was brought up in an environment of Bach’s music and the complexities of his music were instilled into him from an early age. He is able to interpret the works from a solid understanding of the music. As he explained, he has an obsession with the music, and this was very much apparent from his performance.

The works performed included the Suite in G minor, BWV995. The sonorities of the archlute produced a completely new interpretation of this work. Martin works from the original score which enables him to realise more clearly the intentions of the composition.  

The Bach was followed by the Suite in G minor, “A l’honneur de Madame Sibylle Duchesse de Wirtenburg” by Froberger. This work was originally composed for the harpsichord and arranged for the lute. This was performed with style and demonstrated how works originally intended for other instruments adapt well to the lute.

The only thing that marred the performance was the environment in which it was performed. As Martin explained, it is necessary to have complete silence to appreciate the quiet tones of the instrument, which was also reflected in the title given to the programme. Unfortunately, this was not always the case. There was a constant background distraction from passing vehicles and passers-by through the open doors of the church and some minor disturbances from the audience. With the sound of the lute being small, and with the carpet on the floor absorbed much of the sound being transmitted to the back of the church, caused some momentary losses of concentration. Despite this, the overall performance was wonderfully played.

These works are extremely difficult to perform and there is generally a reluctance on the part of many players to perform them in public. Martin, however, has overcome this and is able to give a very convincing performance of these charming works. The Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E-Flat Major was a prime example. The counterpoint in the fugue was clear and Martin was able to vary the dynamics of the inner parts to produce a wonderful transparency to the work. The allegro, which followed, was played with a smooth fluency.

As an encore, Martin performed his own arrangement of the Sarabande from Bach’s First Cello Suite. Overall this recital was a joy to listen to.