In a more enlightened, just and fair-minded world, the music of Sylvius Leopold Weiss would not be as shamefully neglected as it is. This baroque lutenist and sort-of pal to J.S. Bach wrote reams of extremely high-end music for the lute — some of it, to these ears, nearly as perfect as Bach’s — so it was a treat to hear the Slovenian guitarist Mak Grgic spotlight two rarely heard works by Weiss in a fine performance of Renaissance and Baroque music on Sunday night at the National Gallery of Art.
At 25, Grgic is at the beginning of his career, but he proved himself a lyrical, insightful player throughout the evening. The program — tied loosely to the gallery’s exhibit “Imperial Augsberg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings 1475-1540” — ranged from 15th-century songs by Heinrich Isaac to 18th-century works from Adam Falckenhagen, and showcased Grgic’s thoughtful and delicately nuanced approach. Grgic seems to favor beauty over electricity, and was at his best in quiet, introspective works such as Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger’s “Toccata No. 6”, which opened the program, and three colorful Fantasias by Francesco da Milano.
But there were more playful moments, as well. Grgic was joined by organist Stephen Ackert, who heads up the gallery’s music department, for an amiable little lute concerto in F Major by Karl Ignaz Augustin Kohaut. Ackert was playing a sort of miniature pipe organ known as a portative, and its pint-size sound worked surprisingly well with the guitar; a smile-inducing work all around.
But it was in the music of Weiss that the guitarist seemed most assured, and his skills most evident. He turned in a beautiful account of Weiss’s six-movement “L’Infidel” suite, exploring its contrasts and fascinating twists and turns — from the deeply personal Sarabande to the slow-gathering power of the Paisanne — with real intelligence. And Weiss’s Passacaglia in D Major (a masterwork if there ever was one) may have been the high point of the evening; a superb, finely detailed reading that showed Grgic is a guitarist to keep an eye on.
Brookes is a freelance writer.