Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch
The 46 rispetti (Italian verses), set to music by Hugo Wolf across two intense periods in the 1890s, sound less like poems than fragments of overheard conversation. Along with the whisperings of courtly devotion and erotic obsession, there is rough humour and bad temper. The ‘he’ and the ‘she’ do not belong to any single place. At times, they are very much of Wolf’s own, neurotic age (‘Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen’ and ‘Und willst du deinen Liebsten sterben sehen’). Elsewhere (‘Mein Liebster hat zu Tische mich geladen’ and ‘Mein Liebster ist so klein’), they are as old as the stones of Tuscany.
Wolf did not prescribe a performing order for the Italienisches Liederbuch. The one chosen by pianist Roger Vignoles, soprano Joan Rodgers and baritone Roderick Williams was custom-built and bucks a recent trend (see Christophe Prégardien and Julia Kleiter, and Christian Gerhaher and Mojca Erdmann) in which the female voice is youthful and the male experienced. Rodgers and Williams are equal partners, flitting effortlessly between enchantment and cynicism. Rodgers’s voice spreads uncomfortably at the climax of ‘Wenn du, mein Liebster, steigst zum Himmel auf’, but is elsewhere smooth and cool, with an eerily bitter tone in ‘Wie viele Zeit verlor ich’. Williams’s command of these acerbic mini-dramas is superb but the most impressive aspect is the expressivity and clarity of Vignoles’s playing, from the pellucid beauty of ‘Auch kleine Dinge’ to the queasy trills in ‘Ich liess mir sagen’ and the feverish chromatics of ‘Selig ihr Blinden’.