Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
The past, it is said, is a foreign country so perhaps this curious release should be filed under World Music. If you are expecting a choir or orchestra you will be disappointed but those with an open mind may find this a pleasant surprise. The greatest German poets of song lyrics during the late Middle Ages, the shadowy "Monk of Salzburg" and the much better known Oswald von Wolkenstein, as the "last of the Minnesingers", are not only representatives of the flowering of the secular poetry and music of their time they were also important composers of sacred music in the German language. This recording, 'Hör, Kristenhait!', by the Ensemble Leones, presents this devout side of both musicians in which they employ their entire poetic and compositional energy: the Monk of Salzburg, with his own German texts sung to Gregorian melodies, and von Wolkenstein with his new and splendid tunes. The song-speech poet Michel Beheim also makes his voice heard with the invocation to the Holy Spirit that opens the programme. The collection is completed by instrumental adaptations of sacred works by composers of this epoch. The highly experienced singers Sabine Lutzenberger and Raitis Grigalis stand by the side of the ensemble director Marc Lewon, who accompanies them with Baptiste Romain on various period instruments such as the lute, viol and bagpipes (but not all at the same time). The booklet notes by Lewon are helpful but the texts are not translated so at times it can be tricky to deduce quite what is happening. Some of the tunes, though, stand on their own. Oswald von Wolkenstein (c. 1376-1445) is a new name to me and while he may have borrowed some of his melodies from other sources the end results are captivating. The Monk of Salzburg, whoever he might be, works closer to the traditions of his day so if you enjoy chant as being more typical of what we think of as medieval music you will like what you hear.
The opinions expressed in this article are
not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed
views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may
not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a
Interested in reviewing music? Find out