Notes and Editorial Reviews
Stone Records projected complete Hugo Wolf cycle is progressing rapidly. Here is volume 3 and the next issue is already in the pipeline. The first two volumes Volume 1 and Volume 2), covering the Mörike songs, set fairly high standards and while I wasn’t wholly enthusiastic over everything there it was good enough to make me look eagerly forward to the next issue. The Mörike songs were allocated between four singers, which was a guarantee of contrast. Here, in the delightful 46 songs constituting
Italienisches Liederbuch, it was deemed enough to have two singers. This is what most recordings have supplied in the past, from the DG set with Irmgard Seefried and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and onwards. I have not heard all the
existing complete sets, but I have an old favourite in a 40-year-old set with Elly Ameling and Gérard Souzay. Seefried, for all her insight in Lieder and all her charm, was beginning, even in 1958, to sound pinched in tone and a bit squally on top notes. Ameling retained for most of her long and distinguished career a naturalness and freshness that made her readings immediately compelling and here she is in truly youthful voice. Souzay was, in his inimitable way, also very natural sounding, less sophisticated and detailed than Fischer-Dieskau but still utterly responsive to the words. By the time of that recording he had lost a little of the bloom his voice had in the 1950s and early 1960s. Occasionally his vibrato becomes very wide indeed but it is still a pliant instrument for most of the time.
The singers on the present disc are nicely contrasted. Geraldine McGreevy’s beautiful, glittering soprano is ideal for most of the female songs. She has a flexible voice and her singing is mostly lively and ‘open-eyed’. There is a sense of voyage of discovery and of the joy she feels at conveying her discoveries to an audience. Since this is a live recording I imagine that the presence of an audience inspired her. The very first song,
Auch kleine Dinge, is a fitting ‘motto’ for this delectable collection of miniatures. With the exception of
Benedeit die sel’ge Mutter [No. 35] no song exceeds three minutes in length. Ms McGreevy’s simple and innocent approach is so at one with the lyrics:
Even small things can delight us
Even small things can be precious.
Think how gladly we deck ourselves with pearls;
They fetch a great price but are only small.
Think how small the olive is,
And yet it is prized for its goodness.
Think only of the rose, how small she is,
And yet, smells so lovely, as you know.
(Translation: Richard Stokes)
This simplicity is recurrent in many of the other songs, not least
Du denkst mit einem Fädchen mich zu fangen (No. 10). The humour of
Mein Liebster ist so klein, dass ohne Bücken (No. 15) comes over almost visually.
Mark Stone’s darkish and powerful baritone has been heard in a wide variety of roles in opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic since his debut in 1998. He has also devoted time to art songs. He is an assured singer with excellent diction and there are no vocal shortcomings in his readings here. He is also wonderfully nuanced and his soft singing is often ravishing.
Der Mond hat eine schwere Klag’ erhoben (No. 7) has a hushed intensity that is very appealing. Elsewhere he is outgoing in an operatic manner, but always within the scope of true Lieder singing. Sholto Kynoch is as usual a flexible co-musician. The piano part in Wolf’s songs is at least as important as the vocal line. The balance between singers and pianist is ideal and the audience is unusually well-behaved. The songs are presented in the order Wolf advised, which is not always the case in performances or recordings of this work. There are biographical notes on the composer by Mark Stone and an essay on the music by Richard Stokes. This series goes from strength to strength. The next volume will be even more interesting insofar as it will contain several previously unrecorded songs.
The established favourite recordings of
Italienisches Liederbuch are not made redundant by this issue but it is a worthy alternative.
-- Göran Forsling , MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Italienisches Liederbuch by Hugo Wolf
Geraldine McGreevy (Soprano),
Sholto Kynoch (Piano),
Mark Stone (Baritone)
Written: 1891-1896; Vienna, Austria
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