Wolf: Mörike Lieder; Goethe Lieder

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COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Mörike Lieder; Goethe Lieder
PERFORMER: Barbara Hendricks (soprano), Roland Pöntinen (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56988 2
Two of the poets who meant most to Hugo Wolf are frequently twinned on disc; partly because they display satisfyingly complementary aspects of Wolf’s musical responses, and partly because there are so many settings of each one that few singers dare to take on more than a few at a time (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, of course, being notable exceptions).

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So, here they are again: Mörike, the gentle and quirky pastor, painter and poet from Swabia, who stimulated Wolf to elaborate and perfect his own distinctive musical language; and Goethe, whose depth and breadth of mind drew from Wolf not so much a lyrical outpouring as impassioned worship at the shrine. Barbara Hendricks and Roland Pöntinen certainly have the measure of much that is unique within the settings of each poet.

Hendricks’s gift at expressing a rapt, childlike sense of contemplation, at once minutely observant and deceptively simple, gives perfect expression to Mörike’s two reflections ‘On a Christmas Rose’. And the depth and range of colours within her soprano, now in its prime, provide both a mordant edge to the lighter songs, and a dark, sensuous intensity for those such as ‘Encounter’ and ‘On a Journey’. Her Goethe settings tend to be a little more laboured. But the Mignon songs – sung by the waif with the unspeakable secret in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister – grasp movingly the solemn isolation of the character.

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With such widely varied selections available, it’s difficult to pinpoint a true female-voice benchmark. I love Anne Sofie von Otter’s Mignon songs with Ralf Gothóni (DG); but for the closest, best comparison within both poets, I’d go for Felicity Lott, whose performances with Geoffrey Parsons I’d nevertheless be reluctant to rate over and above those of Hendricks and Pöntinen. Hilary Finch