Wolf - Italienisches Liederbuch

The Europadisc Review

Wolf - Italienisches Liederbuch

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)

£9.95

The final song cycle of Hugo Wolf’s tortured compositional life had a particularly protracted genesis. Eventually published in two volumes, these miniatures set forty-six of Paul Heyse’s 1860 Italienisches Liederbuch, translations of Italian popular songs on the theme of love, its passions, disappointments, games and quarrels. Wolf selected from Heyse only the short songs – rispetti – which seem to capture love’s fleeting, changeable moods, for his own Italienisches Liederbuch. Few occupy more than two pages of score, and some are just a page long. Whatever the drawbacks and benefits of workin... read more

The final song cycle of Hugo Wolf’s tortured compositional life had a particularly protracted genesis. Eventually published in two volumes, these miniatures set forty-six of Paul Heyse’s 1860 Italienisches Liederbuch, translations of Italian popular ... read more

Wolf - Italienisches Liederbuch

Wolf - Italienisches Liederbuch

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)

The final song cycle of Hugo Wolf’s tortured compositional life had a particularly protracted genesis. Eventually published in two volumes, these miniatures set forty-six of Paul Heyse’s 1860 Italienisches Liederbuch, translations of Italian popular songs on the theme of love, its passions, disappointments, games and quarrels. Wolf selected from Heyse only the short songs – rispetti – which seem to capture love’s fleeting, changeable moods, for his own Italienisches Liederbuch. Few occupy more than two pages of score, and some are just a page long. Whatever the drawbacks and benefits of working on such concentrated canvases, it was Wolf’s own health problems that impacted on the collection’s progress.

Seven songs from the first volume were completed in the autumn of 1890, but a period of intense depression intervened before a further fifteen were composed in a creative burst in late 1891, and the first book was published in 1892. A more serious disruption was caused by the onset of secondary syphilis, with Wolf composing no original music at all from 1892 to 1894. A recovery, however, allowed him to throw himself into work on his only opera, Der Corregidor, in 1895. And in spring 1896 he returned to the ‘Italian Songbook’, composing all twenty-four songs of the second book in less than five weeks: an extraordinary creative feat.

Wolf himself came to detest the public’s perception of him as a composer of miniaturist songs, yet the Italienisches Liederbuch is a jewel of late Romanticism, as popular in the recital hall as on disc, whether performed in isolated parts or as a whole. The two singers – an impassioned male lover and his often coquettish sweetheart – inhabit roles that may now seem outdated, but the emotions they play out are timeless. They never actually interact, with their songs alternating rather than overlapping, yet the emotional dynamics at play ensure a continued vibrancy.

Like many other artists, soprano Carolyn Sampson and tenor Allan Clayton, together with pianist Joseph Middleton, have now recorded the complete cycle in their published order. And although their recording sessions were separate – Sampson’s in September 2020, Clayton’s in July 2021, in a period when so many aspects of life were disrupted – Middleton’s attentive, vividly-realised accompaniments ensure an expressive continuity in a work whose mosaic qualities are part of its enduring appeal. Clayton is the very embodiment of the passionate, adoring lover, and his tenor voice matches (more closely than a baritone would) the ideals of the Italian beau, even when the texts themselves are in German.

Just as Heyse’s translations heightened the expressive intensity of the original popular texts, so Wolf’s music, so concentrated in its gestures and daring in its harmonic language, raise the emotional bar still higher. Both Clayton and Sampson – the latter capable of a vast range of utterance, from the humorously teasing to the tender and even scornful, from pure-toned to full-throated – bring out the enormous range of feeling captured in these miniature masterpieces. And Middleton is at all times an expert at enhancing the various moods.

The songs of the first book (numbers 1–22) are the more finely etched, contrasted and characterful. It is in the more reflective songs that Clayton particularly excels: the hauntingly austere no.5 ‘Selig ihr Blinden’, or the wonderfully inward no.7 ‘Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag’ erhoben’ (the first of a group of three that rises to unexpected heights of intensity). He’s a dab hand, too, at the kind of vocal characterisation called for in no.14 ‘Geselle, woll’n wir uns in Kutten hüllen’. Sampson, meanwhile, knows just when to pare back her tone, as at the close of the marvellously humorous, jagged no.11 ‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’. And she turns that lightness to wonderful effect in the lighter songs, while unleashing a fuller tone in the more serious numbers.

In the second volume, Wolf’s accompaniments are less pictorial, more in the nature of ‘pure music’, but the harmonic richness is no less intense, and Middleton’s accompaniments are as sensitive as ever. There’s a searing intensity to the lines in no.26 ‘Ich ließ mir sagen und mir ward erzählt’ (Sampson), while the mercurial changes of mood in no.27 ‘Schon streckt’ ich aus im Bett die müden Glieder’ (Clayton) are brilliantly realised. In the exquisite nos. 34 and 35 (‘Und steht Ihr früh am Morgen auf vom Bette’ and ‘Benedeit die sel’ge Mutter’) Clayton is at his rapt best; but it is Sampson who has the last word in ‘Ich hab’ in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen’, a delightfully throwaway response to Leporello’s ‘Catalogue’ aria in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The sheer range of emotions in the cycle as a whole, caught so well by all three performers, perhaps gives a hint of Wolf’s own inner turmoil. Yet the prevailing good humour and the mastery of miniature forms make one regret all the more his subsequent mental and physical disintegration.

Don’t be fooled by the rather psychedelic (lurid?) cover: these are life-enhancing performances of Wolf’s final masterpiece, vividly recorded at Potton Hall, and with full texts and translations plus a thoughtful and informative commentary from Richard Stokes. Those wedded to the idea of a baritone lover in these songs should really give Sampson and Clayton a spin: it’s likely to persuade you otherwise! And, against some very stiff competition in recent years, this version stands out for its consistently high standards and ever-engaging artistry.

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The Spin Doctor Europadisc's Weekly Column

Music Makers: Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln

Music Makers: Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln  3rd August 2022

3rd August 2022

Released to coincide with Reinhard Goebel’s 75th birthday, Deutsche Grammophon have gathered together all the recordings he made for Archiv Produktion with his own ensemble, Musica Antiqua Köln, between 1977 and 2004. It’s a mouthwateringly substantial box: 75 discs in all, housed in handsome ‘original jackets’ sleeves reflecting the gradual changes in Archiv’s house style between the late 1970s and the first years of the new millennium. With so many works of short, multiple tracks, the booklet is largely given over to a comprehensive track listing, but there’s room for an informative background article by Martin Elste, as well as a revealing new interview with Goebel himself.
Musica Antiqua Köln (MAK) was founded in 1973 by Goebel and fellow students at Cologne’s Hochschule für Musik, and Goebel himself – a relatively late-starter on the violin, which he took up at the age... read more

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