Brahms/Wolf

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COMPOSERS: Brahms/Wolf
LABELS: Forlane
WORKS: Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121; Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32; 3 Gedichte von Michelangelo; Harfenspieler Songs
PERFORMER: José van Dam (baritone); Maciej Pikulski (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: UCD 16745 DDD
‘A sculptor must have a bass voice,’ decreed Hugo Wolf; and both the dark bass-baritone of José van Dam and this singer’s mature seriousness of artistry make him well cast in the last songs of Wolf and Brahms. The Wolf Michelangelo songs are hewn in firm, strong lines, with the vitality of each individual word never hampering the broader sweep of the vocal chisel.

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In Wolf’s other great triptych, the Harfenspieler songs, the definition of Maciej Pikulski’s piano-playing makes its own valuable contribution to the etching out of these vignettes of Goethe’s mysterious outcast from Wilhelm Meister – particularly in the second song, where the piano’s halting movement jars disconcertingly against the unbroken line of song.

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The piano is, alas, recorded in a rather boxy acoustic. This tends to mar the Brahms Serious Songs, though the knife-edge of vigour which van Dam brings to their rhetorical questions, and the full resonance to which his voice rises in the penultimate song, are reward enough. This weighty recital is completed by the nine songs of Brahms’s Op. 32: poems of night and wandering, most of them firmly anchored in the past tense, and performed with characteristic consideration. Hilary Finch