The repertoire Scholl brings to the Wigmore Hall is often unexpected and the music of Oswald von Wolkenstein was no exception.
The packed hall enthusiastically received a concert of music from the early 1400s, sung in a style and played on instruments not regularly heard since about 1480.
The concert was divided between very long narratives, based on Wolkenstein’s adventures all over Eastern Europe and Asia, shorter, mostly love-related lyric pieces, and very brief instrumental solos. Wolkenstein lived at an exciting time, when the divisions between serf, knight and noble were beginning to break down, and his own music is evidence of this change in society towards more personal, less conventional styles.
Scholl clearly wanted to make it easy for us to appreciate the narratives, so he began the longer pieces with a spoken translation, sometimes very droll in its version of the text in one story, the lover can only be ‘appreciated’ by his beloved if he dresses as a monk, so when he divests himself of his habit, ‘Sadly my love life took a distinct turn for the worse.’ The music is a kind of bridge between, say, Gregorian chant and Mahler, if you can imagine that, with a steady, subtly varied beat and imagery often drawn from nature. Obviously, the songs gave Scholl plenty of opportunity to display his uniquely beautiful tone, consummate artistry and ability to colour a text the narrative ‘Es fuegt such’ (It happened) may have been written around 1440, but Scholl managed to make such lines as ‘Und hulf mir die, mein trauren km zu wunne’ (if she would help me, my sorrow would become bliss) sound as though they had been penned this century.
The high points of the evening were the wonderful ‘Herz, mt, leib’ and ‘Ach, senliches leiden’ which speak to modern audiences very much as Schubert’s Lieder do both were sung with plaintive directness, as well as the superb ‘duet’ ‘Nu rue mit sorgen’ which was given a mesmerizing performance by Scholl and Kathleen Dineen, the erotic sentiments given as urgent an emphasis as this style of music can permit.
The instrumental pieces provided their own charm, finely played by Crawford Young on the lute, Marc Lewon on the vielle and checker (you may not think you know those instruments, but you’ll have seen them in paintings of troubadours) and Margit Ubellacker on the dulce melos. It was a delight in itself just to hear them, and they gave the voices the most eloquent support.
If you missed this concert, you’ll be able to hear Scholl perform Wolkenstein again at the Barbican in April 2010 it takes a little time for the ears to become attuned to this composer if it’s not usually your type of thing, but with such devoted advocacy and near-perfect performance, you can’t help but be converted.