Wolkenstein: Songs of Myself

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COMPOSERS: Wolkenstein
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Songs of Myself
PERFORMER: Andreas Scholl (countertenor, baritone); Shield of Harmony: Kathleen Dineen (soprano, harp), Marc Lewon (gittern, lute, vielle, nyckelharpa), Margit Übellacker (dulce melos)/Crawford Young (lute, gittern)
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902051

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 Andreas Scholl’s curiosity for unfamiliar repertoire has given rise to a series of memorable recordings, from Albert to Ward, Gasparini to Pasquini, and, now, the early 15th-century knight-crusader, poet-musician Oswald von Wolkenstein.

A latter-day Germanic troubadour, Wolkenstein sings of love and lust, of journeys both literal and spiritual – timeless themes that he treats with disarming directness.

Most of his poems are set to a single skein of melody, around which the ensemble Shield of Harmony weaves a delicate tapestry of sounds from plucked and bowed strings and the exotic-toned dulcimer.

The few polyphonic works are mostly arrangements of pieces by Wolkenstein’s contemporaries or simple two-part harmonisations. It’s an exquisite sound-world, evoking the dainty scenes of court life illuminated in contemporary manuscripts and books of hours.

Scholl seems fully at ease in this, his own musical heritage, which he delivers with a keen awareness of poetic shape and nuance, and of the fine-line between speech and song in the nascent Lied. He’s joined by Kathleen Dineen, whose focused, unforced voice is the perfect instrument for these spare harmonies.

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There’s perhaps a whiff of New Age spirituality about these performances, with their predominantly wistful, meditative mood, ethereal timbres and glossy recorded sound, but few could deny their immaculate style. Kate Bolton