Sat Jan 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm

By Tim Sawyier

The Newberry Consort performed music of Count von Wolkenstein Friday night at the Newberry Library.

The Newberry Consort presented the second program of their 30th anniversary season Friday night at the Newberry Library’s Ruggles Hall. Entitled “The Count,” the concert was devoted to music of Count Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376-1445), a peripatetic nobleman with the singular pastime of recording his personal exploits and musings in song. The performance successfully overcame the surface uniformity of Wolkenstein’s output, and was overall a compelling and expertly executed examination of his oeuvre.

The Consort opened with the first verse of Wolkenstein’s autobiographical “Es fügt sich, da ich was von zehen jaren alt,” and four further verses punctuated the rest of the program. These covered such topics as the hardships Wolkenstein encountered upon leaving home, the places he visited, the languages he spoke, the instruments he played, and his time as a wandering monk. All these were sung exquisitely by countertenor Drew Minter, whose emphatic, bardic delivery made for evocative storytelling. 

The Consort represented Wolkenstein’s bawdier side with selections such as “Frölich geschrai so well wir machen, lachen” and “Simm Gredlin,” the content of which bordered on the pornographic. In the former all the performers contributed vocals in a polymathic display, and in the latter Consort co-director soprano Ellen Hargis achieved a silky blend in the unaccompanied opening duet with Minter. The bucolic “Wol auff wol an! kind” and militaristic “Nu huss!” also found Hargis and Minter in vocal sync. 

In “Komm, liebster Mann” Hargis also collaborated beautifully with Debra Nagy, who lent her burnished vocal timbre to the proceedings along with her expert shawm and recorder playing. The vocal trio of Hargis, Minter, and Nagy closed the evening on a spiritual note in their ethereal rendering of “Ave Müter Königinne.”

Indeed Wolkenstein’s most successful songs are not those that recount the events of his life, but those that mine more spiritual and psychological depths. The highpoint of the night was Minter’s poignant rendering of “Mein sünd und schuld,” in which the count wistfully laments his lost youth and physical decline, exhorting young people to seek God above earthly glories.

The Newberry’s instrumental ensemble solidly supported the solo singing, their rhapsodic, quasi-improvisatory introductions, interludes, and accompaniments both grounding and lending atmosphere to the proceedings. Two instrumental selections each had a poised lilt, and Newberry founding director Mary Springfels was a particularly welcome guest presence on the medieval vielle and citole.

As always with Newberry Consort programs, a significant amount of scholarship went into this production. Director David Douglass deserves plaudits for arranging Wolkenstein’s music into a performable state, which included composing supporting lines where the manuscript provided none. 

Translations were projected on a large screen along with images of manuscripts, neumes, maps, and period artwork in a display curated by Shawn Keener, whose work here was on a par with her commendable contribution to the Newberry Consort’s “Le Roman de Fauvel” last season. Without the variety provided by such multimedia adornments the stylistic homogeneity of Wolkenstein’s music could have made for a tedious evening, but the combined result was anything but dull.

“The Count: Music of Oswald von Wolkenstein” repeats 8 p.m. Saturday at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Northwestern’s Galvin Recital Hall in Evanston. newberryconsort.org

Posted in Performances

POSTPONED: April Fundraiser

Dear Valued Patrons,
We regret to share that due to concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to postpone our April 19th fundraising event, Ecco la Primavera. We expect to reschedule this event for a weekend between July and September – stay posted! Please know this decision does not reduce the Newberry Consort’s need for your support. Indeed, now more than ever, we hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to help us not only minimize the losses from this postponement but also contribute to our future events.

If you currently hold a ticket for this event, refunds are available upon request. Otherwise, the cost of your ticket will be applied to the rescheduled event. If you are a current ticket-holder for this event, Consort General Manager Hannah De Priest will be in touch with you directly very soon.
You can always donate to the Newberry Consort online  or via check. Our mailing address is The Newberry Consort, P.O. Box 60212, Chicago, IL, 60660-0212. Please reach out to manager@newberryconsort.org if you have any questions or leave a message at 773-669-7335 and one of our staff will be in touch with you.
We appreciate your understanding and very much look forward to welcoming you to Newberry Consort concerts in the future. Till then, wishing you all good health and safety in these uncertain times.