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
The Final Days is the true story of Germany's most famous anti-Nazi heroine brought to life. Sophie Scholl is the fearless activist of the underground student resistance group, The White Rose. Using historical records of her incarceration, the film re-creates the last six days of Sophie Scholl's life: a journey from arrest to interrogation, trial and sentence in 1943 Munich. Unwavering in her convictions and loyalty to her comrades, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills as Scholl delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless.
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.
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)