PERFORMER: Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Thérèse Lindquist (piano)
CATALOGUE_NO: Bridge 9431
Few singers have been more committed to espousing the cause of unfairly neglected German Lieder than the Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair. In this recital, recorded live in Munich in 2011, his focus is on Max Kowalski, a largely self-taught composer who lived in Frankfurt up to 1933 before being victimised by the Nazis and subsequently moving to Britain. A successful lawyer, Kowalski wrote songs in his spare time, but was so highly esteemed in this regard that many prominent recitalists of the day featured his work in their programmes.
Kowalski’s main claim to fame rests with a cycle of 12 songs entitled Pierrot Lunaire which forms the centrepiece of the disc. Ironically, his set was composed in 1913, the same year as Schoenberg’s iconic work. But, in contrast to his far more illustrious contemporary, Kowalski is no musical iconoclast, preferring instead to exploit the grotesque imagery of the poetry within strictly tonal parameters. Nevertheless, given the limitations of his largely intimate late-Romantic style, the music is certainly worth hearing, not least for demonstrating Kowalski’s instinctive grasp of word setting and his capacity to encompass a surprisingly varied and resourceful range of emotions. Among the other items on the disc, the most interesting to my mind are the harmonically adventurous Rilke settings, composed some years after Kowalski had left Germany.
As one might expect, Holzmair delivers all the music with great commitment, taking infinite care to put across the exact sentiment and mood of each poem. The one drawback, however, is an occasional unreliability of pitch mainly in the upper register, something that would no doubt have been ironed out in studio recording conditions. Erik Levi