Hugo Wolf’s complete songs, Volume 9

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COMPOSERS: Hugo Wolf
LABELS: Stone Records
ALBUM TITLE: Wolf
WORKS: Complete Songs, Vol. 9: Sechs Lieder für eine Frauenstimme; Sechs Gedichte von Scheffel, Mörike, Goethe und Kerner; Drei Gedichte von Michelangelo
PERFORMER: Lydia Teuscher (soprano), Thomas Hobbs (tenor), William Berger (baritone), Robert Holl (bass), Sholto Kynoch (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ST 8067

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How did Hugo Wolf develop his ‘own howl’, as he described his mature style? This recital reveals his debt to his famous predecessors, Schubert and Schumann, and even Brahms, whose music he claimed he hated. It’s a fascinating musical journey through this Austrian master’s songwriting apprenticeship, set against the backdrop of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Two sets of songs for female and male voice respectively are interspersed with some youthful rarities. The song poetry is superb, ranging from Mörike’s and Hebbel’s matchless depictions of female sexual awakening to Goethe’s profound meditations on loneliness and suffering. The recording closes with the magnificently bleak Michelangelo-Lieder, written just months before Wolf’s decline into syphilitic insanity.

The real treat is Lydia Teuscher’s gorgeously sweet and agile soprano voice, matched by Thomas Hobbs’s silken tenor. Teuscher’s rendition of the summertime lullaby, Wiegenlied im Sommer, borne aloft on Sholto Kynoch’s delicate, shimmering accompaniment, is spellbinding. The bass Robert Holl also brings Wagnerian gravitas to the Michelangelo-Lieder.

The mood flips between lyric, sexy, ruminative, teasing and dramatic, so there is plenty in these 22 tracks to delight novices and connoisseurs alike. The sound of this live recording (made at St John the Evangelist, Oxford) is warm and intimate, if occasionally needing a touch more clarity. Complete sets of works risk being tedious, but not when they are conceived and delivered as well as this.

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Natasha Loges