Stone Records have within a few years established themselves
as an interesting new voice in the crowded field of companies
still believing in the future of recorded classical music. The
repertoire has been so far music slightly off the beaten track
with a bias towards vocal music. Songs of Delius, Butterworth
and Ronald Corp are now joined by the first issue in what is
planned to be a complete survey of Hugo Wolf’s songs, begun
at the end of the composer’s centenary year.
Starting with the 53 Mörike songs is a good idea, since many
of his best known songs belong to this group. They were, all
53 of them, composed between 16 February and 26 November 1888,
a quite remarkable feat, comparable to Schumann’s feverish activities
in 1840. They are presented here in the published order – which
isn’t chronological: the first 26 on this disc and the remainder
on volume two, which is already on its way with the same artists
Shared between four singers in four different pitches we are
guaranteed maximum variation, and for continuous listening this
is good. All four singers are well established internationally,
the youngest and probably least known being Swedish mezzo-soprano
Anna Grevelius, who studied in London. The soprano, Sophie Daneman,
has primarily been associated with the Baroque repertoire, working
and recording regularly with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants,
but her discography also encompasses songs by Beethoven, Mendelssohn
and Schumann and, a bit surprising perhaps, a Noel Coward songbook
together with Ian Bostridge.
A few years ago Stephan Loges took part in a complete recording
of Mozart’s songs. I was full of admiration for his singing
and mentioned ‘his well modulated, warm and rounded tone and
perfect legato’ and in particular his care for nuances was much
to my liking. This sensitivity is notable also in the present
recital, and with his powerful, dark-tinted bass-baritone he
has the full measure of these songs. Fussreise (tr. 10)
is very good, Verborgenheit (tr. 12) no less accomplished.
But there are unfortunately less attractive features in his
singing that were not there three years ago: he is slightly
unsteady at times and occasionally strained. Im Frühling
(tr. 13) suffers in this respect and Um Mitternacht (tr.
19) is also marred by this, which is a pity since this is one
of Wolf’s finest songs.
James Gilchrist’s agreeable lyric tenor is perfectly suited
to Der Tambour (tr. 5) and the two songs entitled Auf
eine Christblume (tr. 20-21) are certainly sensitively sung.
But Schlafendes Jesuskind (tr. 25) is not very successful
– again a pity, since I believe many listeners are fond of this
song. The concluding Karwoche (tr. 26) is beautifully
performed as long as he sings softly but when under pressure
the voice tends to spread and the tone hardens.
No such problems with Anna Grevelius. Her mezzo is well-equalized
from top to bottom, it is powerful and agile – her debut as
Rosina in The Barber of Seville at the English National
Opera got rave reviews – and she is wonderfully sensitive. Nimmersatte
Liebe (tr. 9) is a worthy calling-card, but even more so
is An eine äolsharfe (tr. 11) and Elfenlied
(tr. 16) with its evocative piano part is certainly one of the
highlights in her lively reading.
As a Baroque singer one can expect Sophie Daneman to sport a
basically light voice but it has darker undertones and seems
cut out for the Wolf songs she has been allotted. Ein Stündlein
wohl vor Tag (tr. 3) is a gem in her reading and the delightful
Er ist’s (tr. 6), jubilant and beautifully sung, evokes
a genuine feeling of spring, even though I write this in early
November when Jack Frost has already begun his rule up here
in Scandinavia. The voice glitters as much as the piano! Der
Gärtner (tr. 17), one of my earliest Wolf favourites,
is sung with a special lilt but – isn’t it very slow? No matter,
this is Lieder singing on a high level.
The pianist, Sholto Kynoch, was a new name to me but his playing
is extremely accomplished and flexible. A chamber musician as
well as accompanist he has excellent credentials for a Wolf
cycle. This first issue has a lot to offer though it is a bit
uneven. In general it is the female singers who give the most
satisfying readings but some of the less favourable impressions
of the singing of the men may be due to temporary indisposition.
After all, the programme was recorded live on two consecutive
days with obviously no chance to tidy things up afterwards.
Readers who are allergic to live recordings should know however
that there are no signs of an audience: no applause, no creaking
floors, no coughing.