Saturday, 4 February 2017

Hugo Wolf Michelangelo Lieder Stone Records

Latest in Stone Records Complete Songs of Hugo Wolf series is volume 9 featuring Wolf's Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo, with Robert Holl. Holl is a much loved Lieder singer, so it's rewarding to hear him again. Basses have formidably long shelf lives, and Holl's gift for phrasing and interpretation remain worth hearing.  Wolf wrote these songs in 1897, when his health was failing, so in  sense they are his own "letzte Lieder" inviting comparison with Brahms Vier ernste Gesänge completed the previous year, though the texts chosen differ.  In Wohl denk ich oft,  the poet translated by Walter Robert-Tornow,compares past to present, Now, he's praised by the world, but fame has come at a price. The last line ruses with a Wolfian flourish, but laced with bitterness.  A slow, penitential  introduction leads into Alles endet, was entstehet.  Holl's autumnal tones contrast with the firmness in Kynoch's piano part, which reinforces the meaning of the song, that if one phase draws, life goes on.  While Brahms finds resolution, of a sort, in love (in a general sense), the text Wolf uses in Fühlt meine Seele  refers to earthly love. Yet as the vocal part ends, the piano part continues, suggesting a kind of afterglow.

Also on this disc are the very early Sechs lieder für eine Frauenstie. Morgentau, written when Wolf was 17 redeems a very slight poem, while in Die Vögel, to a poem by Reinick, the piano part reveals how Wolf's gift for lyrical charm emerged even at this period.  The three last songs in this set, written in 1882, show how quickly Wolf matured. Wiegenlied im Sommer and Weigenlied im Winter are well judged companion pieces and Mausfallen-Sprüchlien is a miniature masterpiece, which Elizabeth Schwarzkopf dearly loved.  Lydia Teuscher sings with pretty clarity, though she doesn't quiteatchnthen menacing subtext Schwarzkopf brings out so well in the phrase"Witt ! Witt!".

There aren't many recordings of Wolf's Gretchen vor dem Andachtsbild der Mater Dolorosa, so this alone is a good reason for getting this disc. The song is  a gentle contemplation that ends with two subtle but important chords could perhaps benefit from stronger characterization to distance it form the earlier songs, since it comes from Goethe's Faust, and we know the context.  .

Robert Holl sings Der König bei der Krönung and Biterolf from Wolf's Sechs Gedichte von Scheffel, Mörike, Goethe and Kerner.  Although his voice isn't as agile as once it was, he delivers with gravity, which suits meaning. Holl is a king "kampfmüd und sonn'verbrannt" who deserves honour, He is a long standing stalwart of the Oxford Lieder Festival,so the rapport he has with Sholto Kynoch is very strong. Kynoch adjusts to Holl sensitively, so subtly you'd hardly notice, but adds warmth and depth.  The remaining songs are shared by all four singers, who include Thomas Hobbs and William Berger.  This recording has the ambience of a private, personal recital, being recorded at the church of St John the Evangelist in Oxford, rather than in a more formal studio.  Kynoch's playing is superb, very much an artist in his own right, not just an "accompanist". While the singing isn't megastar quality, this recording us worth getting because it brings out the sincerity in Wolf's music.


Original Content: Hugo Wolf Michelangelo Lieder Stone Records

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