Sunday 5 May 2013

Wolf - Das Italienisches Liederbuch - Joan Rogers and Roderick Williams

CHRCD054 - Hugo Wolf  - Das Italienisches Liederbuch
Hugo Wolf (1860 - 1903) did write operas, though he had no great success with them. But here, in  Das Italienisches Liederbuch, he brings ordinary people to life a way which is a vividly dramatic as any opera. There is no plot, instead Wolf took a set of Italian rispetti, tiny eight or ten line verses which were a popular traditional form stretching back to the Renaissance and created a sequence of tiny songs. Both the poetic form and Wolf's songs based on it, are encapsulated in the first song in the collection Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken which provides a list of the little things which delight us, concluding with a rose - the clinching argument. The songs are all tiny. On this new recording all 46 songs last around 77 minutes. For the disc, soprano Joan Rogers and baritone Roderick Williams are accompanied by Roger Vignoles. Issued on the Champs Hill label it gives much delight and shows that little things really can mean a lot.

There is no story-telling, Wolf does not provide us with a scenario, instead he simply lets us hear people interacting in a way which is rather more naturalistic than usual in the musico-dramatic world. This combines, of course, with a highly developed musical sense so the warm Italian peasant culture of the poetry is refracted through Wolf's refined world of the German lied. His music is delightfully illustrative, but not overbearingly so. The curious thing, for such an inspired miniaturist, is that Wolf highly esteemed and admired Wagner and loathed Brahms. His songs however seem to represent a world in which Brahms' Die Liebeslieder Walzer have been pulled through a Wagnerian hedge and suffered a serious re-shaping.

The songs come from the final phase of his musical development; having written extensive collections of settings of Mörike (1888), Goethe (1888/9) and others, he turned to the Mediterranean south in the Spanisches Liederbuch and then to German translations by Paul Heyse of anonymous Italian folk lyrics drawn from collections by Tommaseo, Tigri, Dalmedico and others. Wolf wrote the cycle in two bursts, finishing 22 songs in 1891 and the remaining 24 in 1896 in a single month. The writing of the cycle is bound up with Wolf's failing health and, perhaps, in his obsession with opera.

At the end of 1891 his health collapsed due to a combination of syphilis, exhaustion and his depressive temperament. Though he eventually resumed orchestrating earlier material, depression still prevented him from writing new work. But he was also obsessed by opera, convinced that it was in such large-scale forms that greatness lay. So he wrote his opera Der Corregidor to a sub-standard libretto in 1895. His burst of creativity on Das Italienisches Liederbuch came after this, but by 1897 syphilitic insanity took over, with only the occasional respite.

Not surprisingly, Wolf never heard the complete work performed though he was talking about performances of the complete work in 1893, when only book one existed. As with Schubert's Die Winterreise, the composer seems to have thought of book one as a complete work, before going on to write book two. Because there is no strict performing tradition, singers can feel free choose the order they want and this is encouraged by Edition Peters. But Graham Johnson, in his booklet note for his 1994 recording of the cycle with Felicity Lott and Peter Schreier, that the significant differences between book one and book two should be observed. On this recording the singers have chosen their own order, intermingling songs from both books.

Notwithstanding Johnson's fine version on Hyperion, the artists that I associate most with the work are Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore who perform with great beauty and sympathy for Wolf's songs, but whom I find a trifle arch, Schwarzkopf in particular. I am relieved to say that this new disc from Joan Rogers and Roderick Williams completely avoids archness. Both singers are wonderfully alert to Wolf's song and both can turn on a pin when it comes to emotions. The songs may be short, but Wolf certainly packs a lot into them as he reflects the underlying meaning of the text with great immediacy. The poems are as close to real life as such things can be and Wolf responds with similarly characterful and vivid writing, which seems to bring out the best in both singers. Both have a nice directness with a sympathetic feeling for text and its projection.

One of the beauties of Wolf's cycle is the voice it gives to the female singer, this is a very balanced work and it is lovely to hear Joan Rogers at the peak of her powers, she is a singer whom we just do not hear enough of at the moment. She is able to move from the delicate melodic charm of the opening song, through gentle teasing, to darker moments and real pain. Both singers bring something of a confiding tone into the piece, you feel very much as if you are intimately involved in the work. Roderick Williams uses his fine baritone in highly intelligent manner, able to convince with warm charm but also to introduce moments of haunted bleakness. His voice is capable of great lyric beauty, but also capable of pared down intense pain. Neither singer is seduced into attempting to give the songs an unnecessary surface brilliance. Both highlight melodic charm, when present, but equally they allow Wolf' fascinatingly detailed writing to take its own way. This is a performance whose charm and vivid personality comes from the singers care to ensure that the songs are simply themselves, taking delight in Wolf's kleine Dinge.

Of course there is a third person in the partnership, the pianist Roger Vignoles. Wolf's piano writing takes on a character of its own, not so much accompanying as commenting and encouraging a dialogue. Vignoles turns in a masterly and highly characterful performance. Time and again one notices the skill with which he brings out the details in Wolf's writing; tiny illustrative details which show Wolf's genius for compression.

The disc comes with a fine article by Roger Vignoles along with full texts and translations.

There are a variety of other possible recordings of the set, Mark Stone and Geraldine McGreevy (on Stone Records as part of a complete Wolf edition), Christian Gerhaher and Mojca Erdmann, Christoph Pregardien and Julia Kleiter, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Christa Ludwig (a rare example of a mezzo-soprano in the songs), Peter Schreier and Felicity Lott.

The songs are full of minor miracles and to give a song by song account of the performance would be to place the 46 songs in an unnecessarily forensic examination. All I can do is to recommend that you try the disc, you will be entranced.

Hugo Wolf - Das Italienisches Liederbuch 
Auch kleine Dinge können uns entzücken (Book 1 No 1)
Was für ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden? (Book 2 No 23)
Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt entstund (Book 1 No 4)
Gesegnet sei das Grün und wer es trägt! (Book 2 No 39)
Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf vom Bette (Book 2 No 34)
Mein Liebster ist so klein, daß ohne Bücken (Book 1 No 15)
Ihr jungen Leute, die ihr zieht ins Feld (Book 1 No 16)
Ich esse nun mein Brot nicht trocken mehr (Book 2 No 24)
Schon streckt' ich aus im Bett die müden Glieder (Book 2 No 27)
Mein Liebster singt am Haus im Mondenscheine (Book 1 No 20)
Ein Ständchen Euch zu bringen kam ich her (Book 1 No 22)
Geselle, woll'n wir uns in Kutten hüllen (Book 1 No 14)
Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen (Book 1 No 11)
Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen (Book 1 No 17)
Du denkst mit einem Fädchen mich zu fangen (Book 1 No 10)
Hoffärtig seid Ihr, schönes Kind, und geht (Book 1 No 13)
Du sagst mir, daß ich keine Fürstin sei (Book 2 No 28)
Nein, junger Herr, so treibt man's night, fürwahr (Book 1 No 12)
Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag' erhoben (Book 1 No 7)
O wär' dein Haus (Book 2 No 40)
Sterb' ich, so hüllt in Blumen meine Glieder (Book 2 No 33)
Wie soll ich fröhlich sein und lachen gar? (Book 2 No 31)
Wenn du mich mit den Augen streifst und lachst (Book 2 No 38)
Wohl kenn' ich Euren Stand (Book 2 No 29)
Laß sie nur gehn die so die Stolze spielt (Book 2 No 30)
Heb' auf dein blondes Haupt und schlafe nicht (Book 1 No 18)
Mir ward gesagt, du reisest in die Ferne (Book 1 No 2)
Ihr seid die Allerschönste weit und breit (Book 1 No 3)
Daß doch gemalt all' deine Reize wären (Book 1 No 9)
Wenn du, mein Liebster, steigst zum Himmel auf (Book 2 No 36)
Man sagt mir, deine Mutter woll' es nicht (Book 1 No 21)
Heut' Nacht erhob ich mich um Mitternacht (Book 2 No 41)
Benedeit die sel'ge Mutter (Book 2 No 35)
Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen (Book 2 No 25)
Ich ließ mir sagen und mir ward erzählt (Book 2 No 26)
Wer rief dich denn? Wer hat dich herbestellt? (Book 1 No 6)
Was soll der Zorn, mein Schatz, der dich erhitzt? (Book 2 No 32)
Nun laß uns Frieden schließen, liebstes Leben (Book 1 No 8)
Nicht länger kann ich singen (Book 2 No 42)
Schweig' einmal still, du garst'ger Schwätzer dort! (Book 2 No 43)
O wüßtest du, wie viel ich deinetwegen (Book 2 No 44)
Verschling' der Abgrund meines Liebsten Hütte (Book 2 No 45)
Selig ihr Blinden, die ihr nicht zu schauen (Book 1 No 5)
Wir haben beide lange Zeit geschwiegen (Book 1 No 19)
Wie viele Zeit verlor ich, dich zu lieben! (Book 2 No 37)
Ich hab' in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen (Book 2 No 46)

Joan Rogers (soprano)
Roderick Williams (baritone)
Roger Vignoles (piano)
Recorded 3 - 6 July 2012 in the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex

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