Hugo WOLF (1860 – 1903)
The Complete Songs – Vol. 1
Mörike Lieder Part 1
1. Der Genesene an die Hoffnung [4:15]
2. Der Knabe und das Immlein [3:16]
3. Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag [2:04]
4. Jägerlied [0:56]
5. Der Tambour [2:39]
6. Er ist’s [1:19]
7. Das verlassene Mägdlein [3:18]
8. Begegnung [1:28]
9. Nimmersatte Liebe [2:29]
10. Fussreise [2:31]
11. An eine äolsharfe [6:14]
12. Verborgenheit [2:45]
13. Im Frühling [4:45]
14. Agnes [3:00]
15. Auf einer Wanderung [3:46]
16. Elfenlied [1:42]
17. Der Gärtner [1:29]
18. Zitronenfalter im April [1:51]
19. Um Mitternacht [3:51]
20. Auf eine Christblume I [5:37]
21. Auf eine Christblume II [1:56]
22. Seufzer [2:22]
23. Auf ein altes Bild [2:23]
24. In der Frühe [2:21]
25. Schlafendes Jesuskind [3:15]
26. Karwoche [3:59]
Sophie Daneman (soprano)
Anna Grevelius (mezzo)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Stephan Loges (baritone)
Sholto Kynoch (piano)
rec. live 22-23 October 2010 at Holywell Music Room, Oxford, U.K.
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
STONE 5060192780086 [78:23]

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 as here.

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.

Göran Forsling

This first issue has a lot to offer though it is a bit uneven.