Heinrich Von Meissen

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COMPOSERS: Heinrich Von Meissen
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Frauenlob: songs
PERFORMER: Sequentia/Barbara Thornton, Benjamin Bagby
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77521 2 AAD
The Minnesingers were poet-musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries, and Heinrich von Meissen came at the end of that tradition. His nickname, ‘Frauenlob’, refers to a group of his songs in which he exalts the object of his love with the term ‘Frau’ (lady) rather than the coarser ‘Weib’ (woman). And this medieval celebration of womanhood provides an ideal subject for the group Sequentia, which is best known for its many recordings of Hildegard of Bingen. But the album also acts as a memorial to its director Barbara Thornton, who died two years ago. The pieces were recorded in 1990 but never issued owing to technical problems; they have now been re-engineered and are almost completely blemish-free.

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Frauenlob’s music survives only in a fragmentary state, but Benjamin Bagby has woven his usual magic in mixing genuine melodies with improvised interludes and newly composed tunes. The result in ‘Wie die döne löne’ is touchingly tender, balanced and responsive, but sometimes the improvisations overwhelm the vocal part as on tracks 9 and 10, where the instruments tinkle away madly like chime bars on viagra. Not until ‘Ein snider sneit’ do the calm, soaring unaccompanied female voices bring us back to the wonderfully evocative Sequentia sound that Barbara Thornton did so much to create – and which, doubtless, Frauenlob himself would have praised as a fitting object of love. Anthony Pryer