Wolkenstein - Songs of Myself
This is a winner; and it will add enormously to Andreas Scholl’s already enormous reputation. In the music of Oswald von Wolkenstein (d1445) he has tackled one of the seriously difficult repertories of the Middle Ages, a couple of hundred years earlier than anything he has previously recorded. To do so he has assembled an excellent ensemble, with people who have specialised in this material for many years, and additionally enlisted the guidance of his former teacher, Richard Levitt, one of whose most enduring achievements is itself a record of music by Oswald (issued in 1970).
Nobody is entirely clear how much Oswald was a composer – a suspiciously large portion of his known music is demonstrably borrowed from others – but he certainly ranks as one of the great linguistic innovators in German poetry and Scholl projects those texts magnificently, drawing on an inexhaustible range of colours and moods. His instrumental ensemble is based around plucked sounds, with an occasional use of vielle; and they are deployed with imagination as well as with a restraint that reflects the very latest position of musicological research on this music. Where the surviving music is monophonic, the newly devised accompaniments are eloquent as well as tactful; where there is written polyphony the scoring is impeccable. The result is an absolute ear-opener.
It is perhaps important also to salute the presence of Irish soprano Kathleen Dineen, who has hitherto had a fairly low profile in the CD catalogue but here sings two magnificent unaccompanied duets with Scholl as well as an unaccompanied solo song (tr 8, not made clear in the booklet-notes, which are a bit unspecific). This is a highly impressive, top-league debut.