German poet and musician Oswald von Wolkenstein (circa 1377-1445) made sure his legacy was secure by having his works compiled into collections during his lifetime. While he was certainly the author of the texts, it is less clear how many of the pieces, which number over 130, include his original music, and how many had his texts applied to preexisting works. In any case, it's an intriguing and attractive body of work, and this collection of 18 of his pieces, plus three other works, makes a fine introduction to his legacy.
Certainly the somber beauty of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater for soprano, alto, and strings has a lot to do with its popularity. But it must be said that the story of the 26-year-old composer completing the work on his deathbed has always been too romantic for the public–or the music business–to resist. "The instant his death was known," wrote the famous 18th-century traveler Dr. Burney, "all Italy manifested an eager desire to hear and possess his productions." And so it's been ever since. In spite of the competition already on the market, it seems Decca just had to get its prize lyric soprano and hotshot young countertenor together to record the piece. –Matthew Westphal
From the earliest planning stages for this recording, Andreas Scholl had only one orchestra in mind: the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. It's no surprise that Decca was skittish about the idea–there are, after all, many good baroque-instrument bands much closer to London–yet the star countertenor insisted that his rapport with this group was special and that it would be well worth the trouble to make the record in Sydney. Well, from the very first notes, it's clear that Scholl was right: conductor Paul Dyer and the ABO launch into the opening of Nisi Dominus with an energetic gusto that you'd sooner expect from Rinaldo Alessandrini's Concerto Italiano than from an Anglo-Saxon band. Scholl responds in kind: his vocalism is as smooth, clear, and assured as ever, but he goes beyond that–his innumerable subtle inflections of tone and timing are more reminiscent of a good orator than an opera singer. The up-tempo arias are exciting, with high-precision coloratura; Clarae stellae, a cheerful solo motet that lacks flashy vocal fireworks, gets a wonderfully insouciant little bounce. Yet the real magic is in the soft, slow arias, where Scholl and his colleagues create an almost palpable sense of wonder (slightly tinged with tension) and hold a listener in thrall as surely as an expert storyteller. Let's hope these artists make more recordings together–and that (with luck) they'll all be as marvelous as this one. –Matthew Westphal
The German seventeenth- and early eighteenthcentury Lied is an area of baroque music still comparatively unexplored by singers and record companies. In the mid 1950s Archiv were first in the field with two excellent LPs of songs by Adam Krieger, perhaps the greatest composer of German continuo Lieder (11/55 – nla) and Hans Valentin Rathgeber and Johann Caspar Seyfert (8/57 – nla). Much more recently, Cantus Can recorded a programme of songs by Heinrich Albert which I reviewed in June 1992; otherwise, apart from mixed programmes which might have included a song or two by Johann Philipp Krieger, Telemann or Görner, there has been little or nothing. That is, until now, with the appearance of this fine recital by the countertenor Andreas Scholl.
Senesino, the voice that inspired Handel's greatest operas showpiece arias by Handel, Lotti, Albinoni, Porpora and Scarlatti. One of the truly outstanding voices of today, star countertenor Andreas Scholl celebrates one of the 18th Century's greatest vocal superstars, the remarkable male alto known as Senesino. Senesino's place in history was secured by his extraordinary association with Handel, who after travelling to Dresden to hear him, brought him to London to join his Italian Opera Company, where he was greatly celebrated by the public, and much admired by the ladies. Inspired by this unique singer, Handel wrote for him a dazzling succession of operatic roles which showcased the beauty and power of his extraordinary vocal personality. Scholl's exquisite voice, beloved of critics and audiences, pure, penetrating, virtuosic and deeply characterful, is a remarkable match for the voice of Senesino.
The gods of musical commerce are smiling on hot young countertenor Andreas Scholl: this is his second CD of opera arias to appear in less than a month. The previous disc, a selection of Handel arias on Harmonia Mundi, showcased Scholl's considerable strengths: subtle and sensitive phrasing, deft coloratura, and a pure, rounded tone with little of the disembodied hootiness that used to be accepted from countertenors. His first recital disc for Decca gives us a wider range of music (Hasse, Gluck, and Mozart as well as Handel) and a more complete representation of Scholl's singing–vices as well as virtues. Among the former are his top notes (sometimes squealy or poorly tuned) and a Joan Sutherland-like combination of beautiful sound with indistinct diction and lack of temperament. This is particularly damaging in the laments from Rodelinda and Giulio Cesare, which come across as mere pleasant pastorales; the famous "Che farò?" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice sounds self-satisfied rather than bereft. (To be fair, Roger Norrington's jaunty tempos deserve much of the blame for this.) Scholl also aspirates his coloratura, which will bother some listeners more than others. On the other hand, "Oh, Lord, whose mercies numberless" from Handel's Saul is radiant, and the two arias from early Mozart operas are thrilling. In the end, the disc gives a fair, well-rounded picture of an important young singer. (Matthew Westphal)
Andreas Scholl returns to Decca with a recording of vocal jewels by the great baroque composer Henry Purcell, including 'When I Am Laid In Earth' from Dido and Aeneas. This is Andreas Scholl's first ever recording of the music of Purcell and his uniquely beautiful voice is perfectly suited to the English composer's plangent melodies. The album includes pieces written for the stage, the church and the private chamber, some of which Andreas Scholl has sung in recital for many years, and some he sings here for the first time
No more making allowances for countertenors–now the best of the breed have voices as rich and as varied as those of any other range. Exhibit A: Gramophone cover boy Andreas Scholl. Unlike David Daniels and Brian Asawa, who made their splash on the opera stage, Scholl became famous as a concert and oratorio singer. He doesn't sing with Daniels's temperament and fire; along with a certain equanimity, he has a round, pleasing sound and a vibrato that's attractive but never intrusive. For his first operatic recording, Scholl chose his music wisely: rather than tempest arias or bursts of martial fury, he gives us long, beautifully shaped melody in the title aria and the famous "Verdi prati." He's at his delightful best in the "birdsong" and "hunting" arias from Giulio Cesare: the clean coloratura, detailed phrasing, and imaginative embellishment are reminiscent of Emma Kirkby in her prime. The instrumental soloists in those arias (violin and horn, respectively) are equally fine, as is the entire period-instrument orchestra. However, nearly half of the playing time on this disc is instrumental music–that seems rather much for a recording marketed as a showcase for a hot young singer. (The much-recorded concerto grosso "Alexander's Feast" in particular seems superfluous.) With that caveat in mind, this impressive disc won't disappoint. –Matthew Westphal