Wolf: The Complete Songbook, Vol. 4
Oxford Lieder’s volumes of the complete songs of Hugo Wolf are appearing thick and fast. This fourth one, recorded live as ever from the Holywell Music Room, focuses valuably on songs which are too seldom performed or recorded: the mature and inexplicably neglected settings of Gottfried Keller and Henrik Ibsen, and a generous 20 even less well-known early songs.
The earliest of all here, Nacht und Grab, was written when Wolf was just 15 and, in its harmonic questing, shows that the young composer meant business. The soft-grained baritone of Quirijn de Lang, with its somewhat cloudy vowels, is well-suited to this dark ditty, sung over what is virtually a piano nocturne, beautifully played by Sholto Kynoch.
Mary Bevan’s feisty soprano draws vivid character cameos of the larger-than-life women featured in Wolf’s six Keller settings, from her proud greeting to a lofty warrior, to her sketch of a drunken charcoal-burner’s wife. The mature Ibsen settings come from Wolf’s incidental music for the play Das Fest auf Solhaug: stark Nordic drama and melancholy menace here, especially in Bevan’s splendid Gesang Margits. De Lang’s baritone, though, really does seem a little too weak and limited in its vocal and dramatic range for the full force of the spooky Gudmunds Gesänge.