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WAYFARING STRANGER

Decca 468 499-2

Review by Judith Malafronte

What we have here is an image problem.  Andreas Scholl, a smart, energetic German countertenor, fond of pop music and motorbikes, made a name as a seriously artistic musician.  But his wackiness keeps peeking out (remember the Three Countertenors spoof disc?), and his musical curiosity seeks outlets his recording company can't keep up with.  Now they seem to have hit upon English folk songs, always a safe vessel for crossing over, but Scholl has already offered lovely renditions in homage to British countertenor Alfred Deller on a 1996 lute-song disc for Harmonia Mundi. 

On this new Decca offering, Scholl revisits I will give my love an apple and presents a variant version of Barbara Allen, but otherwise the material is new and newly arranged.  

I wish I could enjoy these adaptations by Craig Leon, but not a single one highlights the music, text or atmosphere in any positive way.  Gooey string sound on nearly every track straitjackets the hapless Scholl. Both artists have admitted a fondness for Charlie Haden's recording of Wayfaring Stranger, but should a rare, lyrically na´ve vocal by the legendary jazz bass player really serve as a model here?  Scholl's proper, slightly removed vocalism is not a major problem, but his unawareness of English and American folk tradition is. I wish someone had turned him on to the work of Benjamin Luxon, a perfectly classical singer whose readings of ballads and traditional songs with the late Bill Crofut (as on Omega 3003) are utterly natural and expressive. The best cuts are the underarranged affairs, where Scholl can just sing, with plucked strings offering unintrusive support. She moved through the fair (a Luxon special) and Annie Laurie are gorgeous.  Except for the nonsensical instrumental introduction and interludes, Barbara Allen and I will give my love an apple are very effective (though Scholl still sings "howz" for "house"). 

Some of the arrangements are less bothersome: Down in yon forest (with its refrain, I love my lord Jesus above anything) brings out the artful choirboy in Scholl, and the unresolved a cappella ending to Black is the color is haunting.


We keep hearing rumors of a pop album from this interesting artist. Why doesn't he just go for it
?

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