Wolf: Mörike Lieder

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Mörike Lieder
PERFORMER: Mitsuko Shirai (mezzo-soprano)Hartmut Höll (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 10 830
Mitsuko Shirai and Hartmut Höll perform 17 of Hugo Wolf’s 53 Mörike settings, most of which he wrote at white heat in self-imposed isolation in 1888. What characterises them – and Wolf generally – is the intensity with which the music is matched to the words. Shirai applies her rich, ripe mezzo with equal intensity. She sings with sweeping passions, a concentrated religious fervour, sunny innocence, dark drama. The freshness of ‘Neue Liebe’ and ‘Auf einer Wanderung’ is radiantly conveyed, while the Schumannesque ‘Auf eine Christblume I’ has a lovely tenderness, ripe and homely. She also tells a story well, as in ‘Der Gärtner’, resisting here the temptation to gallop off too fast. But this disc is also a record of a superb partnership with Höll. Höll knows exactly how to weigh Wolf’s uniquely expressive harmonies. His crashing piano chords in ‘Wo find ich Trost?’ send a tingle up the spine; his sinewy exploration of the adventurous chromaticisms in ‘Seufzer’ allow this dark piece to seep, as it were, through the skin; and he delicately touches in the subtle evocations of wind and strings in ‘An eine Aolsharfe’.

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The benchmark female singers of Wolf are perhaps headed by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, whose superb live recital with Gerald Moore, recorded in 1958, remains a classic. There’s also Christa Ludwig’s lovely two-disc recital with Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim. Of a younger generation the late Arleen Auger (with Irwin Gage), Anne Sofie von Otter (with Olaf Bär and Geoffrey Parsons), Dawn Upshaw (with Bär and Helmut Deutsch) and Barbara Bonney (with Håkan Hagegård and Parsons) have all made, or contributed outstandingly to, distinguished recital discs. But Shirai easily holds her own against such competition. Stephen Pettitt