Wolkenstein Songs Of Myself
Andreas Scholl

Question: when is an Andreas Scholl CD not an Andreas Scholl CD? Answer: when it is this one. After working largely on 18th century repertoire, Scholl admitted some 17th century music into his canon, such as Monteverdi’s Vespers and lute songs by John Dowland and his contemporaries, but who would have foreseen that he would make a CD focussed on the music of the wild and turbulent Oswald von Wolkenstein (c.1376-1445)? Despite living one of those mediaeval lives that could easily beget a film, complete with acting as squire to a wandering knight, elaborate political toing and froing, beating-up bishops, military leadership, fights, brawls, trials, and much fleeing of creditors, Oswald managed to be one of the greatest composers of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. He was born just as Machaut was dying, and his contemporaries include better-known composers such as Ciconia and Leonel Power. His music has been summarised as having three topics: “travel, God and sex”. Most 14th century secular music was about courtly, that is unrequited, love, but Oswald clearly lacked the inhibitions normally affected by the nobility. Scholl remarks in the liner notes that “this recording would be a very special one”, and the title of the CD refers not only to Oswald’s autobiographical output, but also Scholl’s familiarity with the recording location, which it is thought Oswald might have known. Oswald’s music is couched in a decidedly mediaeval language, monodic and often strophic—al style he inherited from the Minnesänger. As was the usual practice at this time, he wrote his own texts, and in some cases it is not clear whether he wrote the music or merely appropriated it to support his own lyrics: mediaeval music was something of a free-for-all in terms of authorship. In his performances, Scholl is accompanied by a specialist group called Shield of Harmony, directed by Crawford Young, with Kathleen Dineen singing and playing harp, and two other string instrument players: Oswald appears to have favoured strings. As is normal with CDs of mediaeval repertoire the songs (which are all fairly brief, 3 to 6 minutes) are grouped in sets, with instrumental pieces providing welcome contrast. Scholl’s countertenor voice is ideally suited to this archaic-sounding music, and, unexpectedly, he sings some of the songs in his baritone voice, adding a new and welcome dimension to his music-making. The disc is therefore a group effort: Andreas Scholl and Kathleen Dineen variously provide the melodic thread around which their gifted associates weave a convincing and scholarly filigree. The works themselves vary from the direct and folky, especially the instrumental pieces, to highly sculpted song. This is a wonderfully engaging portrait of a truly larger-than-life composer, lovingly realised by committed performers. Do not expect, however, a vehicle for Scholl’s great voice; he has accorded primary place to the music itself.

Review reprinted with permission of Thomas’ Music.