Various singers and
EMI CHS5 66640 2 (5 discs)
Good scripts need fine actors, and the gnomic narratives that fill Hugo Wolf's soul-searching lieder cry out for singers who can weep, laugh, declaim, philosophise or insinuate. Nowadays, the trend in Wolf interpretation tends towards sophisticated urbanity, with immaculate diction and tasteful phrasing as essential pre-requisites; but pre-War Wolfians were a bolder breed, far less inhibited and more openly responsive to the poetry's emotional climate. EMI's 1931-1938 "Wolf Society" recordings were 148 labours of love, prompted by ace-producer Walter Legge and originally released in six albums of 78s - except for 30 titles, which were added later. There have been previous reissues of the Edition, though none are as good - or as comprehensive - as this. The CD transfers are miraculously clear, the documentation incorporates recording details and artist biographies as well as full texts and translations, and the artistic dividends are immeasurable. The histrionic Dane Helge Roswaenge rages wild about Morike's ill-fated fire-rider; Friedrich Schorr - the greatest Wotan of his generation - hurls bitter accusations at the gods (with orchestra), and Alexander Kipnis pleads humility. Sacred and profane songs from the Spanish and Italian Songbooks are shared between Elisabeth Rethberg, Ria Ginster, Karl Erb, Gerhard Husch, Kipnis and others. There's baritone Herbert Janssen singing of solitude and suffering, Tiana Lemnitz soothing with a lullaby and the ochre mezzo of Elena Gerhardt, accompanied by Coenraad V Bos, the man who gave the first public performance of Brahms's Four Serious Songs. Goethe's Ganymed is softened by the Celtic lilt of John McCormack's inimitable tenor. If these and others are mere names to you, lend them life by listening. No single lieder collection of the last twenty years is either more rewarding or more historically significant than "The Hugo Wolf Society", and EMI's latest incarnation includes some valuable "first releases".