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11.9.10

Oswald von Wolkenstein

available at Amazon
A. Scholl, Songs of Myself

(released on April 13, 2010)
HMC 902051 | 80'53"

Online scores:
Oswald von Wolkenstein, Geistliche und weltliche Lieder (in Denkmäler der Tonkunst in Österreich, 18)
Countertenor Andreas Scholl may not have the prettiest voice among those in his vocal type (in terms of purity of tone and intonation, especially in his lower range), but his solo albums are generally enlightened, beautiful, and of musicological interest: for example, the selection of arias sung by the castrato Senesino, other Handel arias for castrato, lute songs by Dowland and others, and a Purcell recital. Add to the list this selection of medieval songs by Oswald von Wolkenstein (c. 1376-1445), a cantankerous nobleman who composed often rambling poems based primarily on the adventures and misadventures of his life. He was not really a courtly poet in the style of the Minnesingers or Meistersingers: although he borrows some of their poetic conventions, his verse is too idiosyncratic to fit neatly into that mold. He was formerly thought of as a composer, although recent scholarship has shown that most of the music found set to his poetry is derived from the compositions of others. (For more information, there is even an Oswald von Wolkenstein-Gesellschaft, based in Frankfurt.) Much of the personal detail that can be scraped together for Oswald's biography comes from the songs, much of it likely nothing more than braggadocio. The image of the man to be gleaned here -- restless traveler, passionate lover of other men's wives, henpecked husband, impatient even cold father -- is no less enigmatic than his famous portrait with one eye closed in the Innsbruck manuscript of Oswald's Lieder (the source known to scholars as B).

Singers have often asked me for repertory suggestions, and I often push them toward medieval monophony, of either sacred or secular varieties, as a way to add something truly unexpected to a vocal recital. The issues of language pronunciation or musical interpretation often deter singers from taking up such a proposal, but Scholl's performance here makes a compelling argument. He collaborates with Shield of Harmony, a group of Renaissance instrumental specialists who provide accompaniments for most of the pieces (either derived from the other voices of the polyphonic songs or improvised, in a style reminiscent of director Crawford Young's earlier work with Benjamin Bagby's group, Sequentia), but monophonic songs are often most expressive just as they are written, focusing the listener solely on the beauty of the lone voice and the recitation of the text (as in Scholl's solo rendition of Herz, müt, leib, sel, one of the loveliest moments on this disc). The variation of interpretations presented here, all based on the forthcoming edition by Marc Lewon, keeps the mood of the recording lively. Scholl chooses to sing Durch Barbarei Arabia and Wes mich mein bühl, Oswald's grouchy plaintes for his domestic misery, in his baritone voice (!), while Ach, senliches leiden is sung more or less as it is notated, with Scholl's countertenor on the lower part and Kathleen Dineen, who is a soprano as well as the group's harpist, on the discantus. Dineen makes a very pleasing sound here, as well as in Bist grüßt maget reine, a gorgeous, Lauda-like paraphrase of the Salve regina. A few anonymous dance pieces are thrown in by the instrumental ensemble for contrast, and other highlights include Scholl's hilarious avian cries in Der mai mit lieber zal.

2 comments:

Torrontes Cafayate said...

Oswald's one-eyed portrait is no enigma at all. He accidentally lost an eye at the eye of nine during the Carnival festivities.

Charles T. Downey said...

Fascinating -- thanks for that!