RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)
Songs performed in a sequence devised by Steuart Bedford
see end of review for track listing
Janet Baker (mezzo), John Shirley-Quirk (baritone), Steuart Bedford (piano)
rec. live, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, 19 June 1977
Sung texts and translations are available online.
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5076 [80:13]
In 1948 Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears started the Aldeburgh Festival. It was at a small scale to begin with, but it grew and in the 1960s Britten started searching for a larger hall. He happened to come upon the Snape Maltings, about 5 miles from Aldeburgh, from which barley from local farms had been converted into malt and distributed to breweries in London and elsewhere since the mid-1850s. In the early 1960s the operating company went into liquidation and the premises were bought by a local farmer. When Britten got there he had a vision that the largest malthouse could be rebuilt into a concert hall. In 1967 the 832-seat Snape Maltings Concert Hall was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II. Two years later it was destroyed by fire but was rebuilt and reopened in 1970, again in the presence of the Queen.
The recital on this disc, never before issued, was given during the first festival after Benjamin Britten’s death. Both singers and the pianist belonged to Britten’s ‘inner circle’. John Shirley-Quirk had been a member of the English Opera Group for many years and Britten wrote the leading baritone role in Death in Venice specifically for him. The opera was premiered in 1973 at Snape Maltings with Steuart Bedford conducting. Janet Baker sang Dido, Polly (in Britten’s version of The Beggar’s Opera) and Lucretia with the English Opera Group. She was the dedicatee of Britten’s last vocal work, Phaedra, which she premiered at the concert hall in 1976.
‘Wolf never intended the vignettes and character sketches of the Italian Songbook to form a unified cycle’, writes Richard Wigmore in the liner notes. Steuart Bedford, who devised the order of the songs, grouped them in what Wigmore calls ‘miniature dramatic scenes’. This works well. The final scene (tr. 41-46) is particularly entertaining. Here both singers let their hair down and indulge in some really juicy characterisation, to the audible joy of the otherwise very well-behaved audience. I say this while not in any way feeling that the published order is in any way inferior to the various re-arrangements that I have on my shelves. Dawn Upshaw and Olaf Bär, like Baker and Shirley-Quirk, begin with the first song Auch kleine Dinge, which is a kind of motto for this collection: these are ‘small things’, some of them lasting less than a minute. Each also ends with Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen, where the girl catalogues her lovers à la Leporello. It is a real scream of a finale and Janet Baker enjoys every second of it. In between this starting point and finish the order of songs is completely different. Elly Ameling and Gerard Souzay on my old Philips recording are even more wayward, beginning with Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen (song No. 22) and finishing with Nun laß uns Frieden schließen (No. 8). In practice this also makes sense but Ich hab’ in Penna is more fun. Geraldine McGreevy and Mark Stone in the complete Hugo Wolf series on Stone Records (in progress) follow the published order.
Of the couples mentioned in this overview, Janet Baker and John Shirley-Quirk are the grandest, the most uninhibited. Shirley-Quirk with his dark-tinted bass-baritone can in particular become overwhelming. More often than not however his readings are wonderfully sensitive and nuanced. Nun laß uns Frieden schließen and Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett die müden Glieder (tr. 10 and 11) are masterly and so is Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag’ erhoben (tr. 27). Generally speaking it is in the second half of the recital - there is an interval after tr. 25 - that he is at his very best. He is truly masterly when we get to Hoffärtig seid Ihr, schönes Kind (tr. 43) and Geselle, woll’n wir uns in Kutten hüllen (tr. 45).
Janet Baker is more even throughout the recital. Her Auch kleine Dinge (tr. 1) may not be as innocent and girlish as for instance Dawn Upshaw and, even more, Elly Ameling. However she is, as always, wonderfully responsive to words and songs. Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen (tr. 5) and Mein Liebster ist so klein (tr. 7) should convince prospective buyers that this disc is worth anyone’s money. Verschling’ der Abgrund (tr. 25) is magnificent; there would have been clapping even if this hadn’t been the last song before the interval.
Steuart Bedford’s accompaniments are competent rather than inspired. Helmut Deutsch, Dalton Baldwin and Sholto Kynoch on the rival discs are all preferable but he makes amends with a riveting postlude to the very last song. The 35-year-old recording is excellent and my only regret is that the texts are not printed in the booklet (you can download them as a PDF file).
Texts or not, this is a thrilling performance of Italienisches Liederbuch and lovers of Wolf or Janet Baker or John Shirley-Quirk or all three should contemplate a purchase - others too!
A thrilling performance of Italienisches Liederbuch.
1. Auch kleine Dinge [JB] [2:19]
2. Was für ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden [JSQ] [1:50]
3. Gesegnet sei das Grün [JB] [1:42]
4. Selig ihr Blinden [JSQ][1:56]
5. Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen [JB] [1:01]
6. Heb’ auf dein blondes Haupt [JSQ] [1:47]
7. Mein Liebster ist so klein [1:33] [JB]
8. O wär’ dein Haus durchsichtig wie ein Glas [JSQ] [1:27]
9. Was soll der Zorn [JB] [1:52]
10. Nun laß uns Frieden schließen [JSQ] [1:41]
11. Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett die müden Glieder [JSQ] [1:52]
12. Mein Liebster singt [JB] [1:40]
13. Nicht länger kann ich singen [JSQ] [1:31]
14. Schweig’einmal still [JB] [0:58]
15. O wüßtest du, wie viel ich deinetwegen [JSQ] [1:44]
16. Wer rief dich denn? [JB] [1:15]
17. Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen [JSQ] [1:24]
18. Nein, junger Herr [JB] [0:51]
19. Man sagt mir, deine Mutter woll’ es nicht [JB] [1:20]
20. Wie viele Zeit verlor’ ich [JSQ] [1:50]
21. Du denkst mit einem Fädchen [JB] [1:27]
22. Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen [JSQ] [2:07]
23. Wie soll ich fröhlich sein [JB] [1:48]
24. Laß sie nur geh’n [JSQ] [1:19]
25. Verschling’ der Abgrund [JB] [1:32]
26. Mir ward gesagt, du reisest in die Ferne [JB] [1:59]
27. Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag’ erhoben [JSQ] [2:05]
28. Ihr jungen Leute [JB] [1:05]
29. Ihr seid die Allerschönste [JSQ] [1:25]
30. Wenn du mich mit den Augen streifst [JB] [1:49]
31. Daß doch gemalt all’ deine Reize wären [JSQ] [2:22]
32. Wohl kenn’ ich Euren Stand [JB] [2:04]
33. Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt entstund [JSQ] [1:38]
34. Ich esse nun mein Brot nicht trocken mehr [JB] [1:39]
35. Benedeit die sel’ge Mutter [JSQ] [3:50]
36. Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf [JSQ] [2:47]
37. Heut’ Nacht erhob ich mich um Mitternacht [JB] [2:07]
38. Sterb’ ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder [JSQ] [2:14]
39. Wenn du, mein Liebster, steigst zum Himmel auf [JB] [1:41]
40. Wir haben beide [JSQ] [2:17]
41. Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen [JB] [2:12]
42. Ich ließ mir sagen [JB] [1:38]
43. Hoffärtig seid Ihr, schönes Kind [JSQ] [0:45]
44. Du sagst mir, daß ich keine Fürstin sei [JB] [1:14]
45. Geselle, woll’n wir uns in Kutten hüllen [JSQ] [2:10]
46. Ich hab’ in Penna eihnen Liebsten wohnen [JB] [1:03]
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