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Wolf: Orchesterlieder; Penthesilea

Benjamin Appl (baritone); Jenaer Philharmonie/Simon Gaudenz (CPO)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Orchesterlieder; Penthesilea
Benjamin Appl (baritone); Jenaer Philharmonie/Simon Gaudenz
CPO 555 380-2   60:06 mins

Wolf was not alone in orchestrating his songs. Nine of the examples here are the composer’s own, but ‘Sterb’ ich’ is the work of Max Reger, ‘Epiphania’s by the more recent German Carl Stueber (1893-1984), and the remaining item – ‘Fussreise’ – by an unknown hand.

The German-born Lieder specialist Benjamin Appl offers a fine baritone with a good range and an ability to characterise skilfully – each of the Three Kings in turn in ‘Epiphanias’, for instance; throughout he is acutely observant of words as well as notes. In the three Harfenspieler songs, he displays variety in material that explores a specific and intense but essentially limited emotional territory, employing a delicate mezza voce in the first of them, ‘Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt’.

Almost half the recording is made up of the sizable and relatively early tone-poem Penthesilea, by far the largest of Wolf’s instrumental works, which occupied him from 1883-85. It is based on a tragedy by Kleist. In his version of the legend of the Amazon queen who fights on the Trojan side in the Trojan War, having fallen in love with Achilles, Penthesilea kills him, ending her own life by willing her own death. As with some of the harmony in the songs on this disc (‘Denk es O Seele’ and ‘Prometheus’, for example), Wagner and Liszt lie in the background of a piece whose unevenness and tendency to over-scoring, as well as its prolixity, have made it a rarity; but as with the song accompaniments it receives a committed performance here under the baton of Simon Gaudenz.

George Hall