Sacred Songs by the Last of the Minnesingers
Ensemble Leones, Marc Lewon
Music by Beheim, Loqueville, Der Mönch von Salzburg, Sicher, Oswald von Wolkenstein & anon
This fascinating and beautifully performed CD presents the sacred music of Oswald von Wolkenstein (the ‘last Minnesinger’ of the title) in the context of sacred and instrumental music by his Austrian and German contemporaries. Entrepreneur, shameless self-publicist, war hero, poet and musician, Oswald is a colourful figure who stands out from the sometimes rather anonymous musical scene of the late 14th and early 15th centuries. I am more familiar with his self-laudatory but highly engaging secular songs as explored in the 1970s by the Studio der frühen Musik in Munich, but it is unsurprising to find that he is a talented and prolific composer of sacred music, particularly in the case of his considerable masterpiece Ave Mater, o Maria which concludes the present CD. His sacred music shares the same forthright character that we hear in the secular music and that we can observe in his arresting one-eyed portrait, and these performances by the three contrasting voices and improvised instrumental drones of the Ensemble Leones are wonderfully evocative. The balance of the CD is made up by the equally characterful music of the Monk of Salzburg (who could clearly have learned a thing or two about self-promotion from Oswald) and some lesser figures of the period, with instrumental interludes from the ubiquitous Buxheimer organ book, also beautifully played. While the excellent programme notes appear in German, English and French, there is sadly only room for the extensive original Middle High German and Latin texts and translations into modern German – non-German speakers are left at a disadvantage in not having the gist of the texts of the sung material. It has to be said that this is a minor blemish in a production which otherwise delights in every respect, perhaps not least in providing the CD with a dignified cover illustrating St Michael from Rogier van Weyden’s Beaune Altarpiece rather than the more obvious reproduction of one of the surviving Oswald portraits.
D. James Ross