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Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch

Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano) (BIS)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Italienisches Liederbuch
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Joseph Middleton (piano)
BIS BIS-2553 (CD/SACD)   78:59 mins

Wise musicians perform Wolf’s 46 ‘Italian’ songs in the order in which they were written. Happily, Joseph Middleton and his singers Carolyn Sampson and Allan Clayton are among the wise. Sung in order, the cycle’s emotional drama is thrown into relief with a pair of lovers fighting to make sense of their feelings – argumentative, petulant, often bruised and, in the case of the young woman, ready to flounce. Carolyn Sampson sings the final song cataloguing all of her other lovers with cruel abandon, positively shouting the line ‘And ten in Castiglione’. Alas for the suitor so often overwhelmed by his feelings for the woman! Allan Clayton’s wonder at her beauty is palpable in ‘Gesegnet sei, durch den die Welt entstund’ from Book 1, with an elegant slide into falsetto underscoring the depth of his ardour before Joseph Middleton produces a tender contemplative postlude.

The BIS engineers have chosen a pin-bright sound for the recording, which doesn’t always do Carolyn Sampson any favours and leaves both singers pretty exposed. But better that than the treacly sound that is sometimes poured over these songs. You also hear the piano part to best advantage: so ‘Was für ein Lied soll dir gesungen werden’, which opens the Second Book, Middleton’s prelude seems to be searching for a melody for the tenor. This is surely what the composer meant when he described the later songs as ‘absolute music’.

Christopher Cook