Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Italienisches Liederbuch
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Hans-Peter Blochwitz (tenor), Rudolf Jansen (piano)
We’re becoming spoilt for choice in recordings of Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch in this, his centenary year. And now a most enticing new version of this pageant of love and life has been added to an already lively catalogue of fine performances old and new. Wolf wrote of his settings of Paul Heyse’s 1860 anthology of Italian popular songs, ‘their heart beats in German, even if the sun shines in Italian’. And it’s good to hear Christiane Oelze and Hans-Peter Blochwitz, as native German speakers, catch every elusive inflection of Wolf’s word-setting.


Wolf’s fusion of disarming emotional simplicity with the most subtle of musical imaging and innuendo is what makes this Songbook so testing. And these performers meet the challenge head-on. What’s more, like Felicity Lott, Peter Schreier and Graham Johnson, who remain my benchmarkers, they sing the songs in Wolf’s wise original order, rather than fashioning a ‘narrative’ of their own.

Oelze’s pure, youthful soprano is, in turn, wide-eyed innocent, rhythmically vigorous shrew and – particularly beautifully – a pearly, benumbed figure of pathos. Only the smile of real warmth and expansive tenderness, so wonderfully captured by Lott, eludes her. Blochwitz is a heroic lover, finding sensuality as well as sensuousness within Wolf’s long, becalmed melodies. And – the real test for me – he exquisitely balances the lilt and the hypnotic stillness of ‘If I should die’.


Again, a reminder of Dawn Upshaw’s and Olaf Bär’s attractive performance on EMI – and a further commendation for the still unsurpassed – just – insights of Lott, Schreier and Johnson. Hilary Finch