Wolf: Christnacht; Elfenlied; Der Feuerreiter; Dem Vaterland; Morgenhymnus

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: Claves
WORKS: Christnacht; Elfenlied; Der Feuerreiter; Dem Vaterland; Morgenhymnus
PERFORMER: Staatlichen Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart Choir, Württemberg Chamber Choir, Ensemble Stuttgart/Dieter Kurz
CATALOGUE NO: CD 50-9622
If only Claves could just get it right. The company has the imagination and courage to winkle out repertoire no one else has thought of, yet often weakens the result in a cramped, thin or mildly distorting acoustic that can torpedo its diligent efforts.

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The thinness in these live performances (by very acceptable Stuttgart vocal and orchestral forces) is far less troublesome than on some other Claves discs, but words do suffer. Even when they embarrass (as in Dem Vaterland – more vulgar than anything Elgar dared in similar vein) it would be nice to catch them more clearly.

Frankly, these are choral-orchestral trivia, but not so trivial they can’t give pleasure to those post-Wagnerites (I’m one) who revel in the likes of Humperdinck, vocal Reger or (in the shifting chromaticisms of Christnacht, Wolf’s newly excavated Christmas oratorio) Schreker.

Wolf’s musical paragraphs can be, at worst, slight and banal. But there are compensations. Der Feuerreiter is a witty, atmospheric Mörike ballad-setting penned just a few years before Elgar’s Uhland-inspired The Black Knight. Morgenhymnus (another orchestrated Wolf Lied) emerges attractively from Tristanesque mists. And the rather bitty, sectional 16-minute Christnacht is a joyous hybrid of Lisztian descent, with a Bruckner brass-chorus opening, Rheingold wind-up and an annunciation text for which Schumann (in Faustian vein) would have made a beeline.

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Balance is generally good, the orchestra is well-coloured, choir and soloists have brightness and fervour and Dieter Kurz nurses things through intelligently and sympathetically. German-English texts are supplied, but not in parallel. Roderic Dunnett