Wolf: Spanisches Liederbuch

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Spanisches Liederbuch
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Olaf Bär (baritone), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 55325 2 DDD
Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf’s superb 1968 recording of this cycle may once have seemed peerless, but this new account by Olaf Bär and Anne Sofie von Otter is a serious rival, for theirs is an ecstatic performance – supremely intelligent, exquisitely modulated and moving. The late Geoffrey Parsons’s contribution is, as ever, far more than mere accompaniment: his playing is deft and searingly idiomatic in a way that stresses – though subtly – the sometimes elusive, yet intrinsic ‘Spanish’ quality of this work, with its seguidilla and fandango rhythms, its echoes of castanets and dance steps.

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Bär has conceived an order for the 44 songs that runs contrary to Wolf’s instructions, but that makes greater dramatic sense as a recital, forming, within their ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ sections, delightful dialogues and their own coherent sub-cycles.

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In some ways the soprano Elly Ameling’s performance of 14 of these songs – three sacred, 11 secular, arranged in apparently random order, and coupled with seven settings of poems by Mörike – is more immediately beautiful. Her voice has an engagingly animated and luxuriant quality, but though she is beguiling to listen to (and Rudolf Jansen provides outstanding support), Ameling’s interpretation lacks the edge, the depth even, that makes von Otter’s contribution to the complete cycle so stunningly authentic. Claire Wrathall