Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Italienisches Liederbuch
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano), Håkan Hagegård (baritone), Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-72301-2 DDD
Apart from very occasional live performances of the Italian Songbook, Wolf’s 46 remarkable songs can only be experienced and appreciated in their entirety from recordings. This disc from Bonney and Hagegård keeps distinguished company with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Irmgard Seefried (twice: 1958 and 1959); Fischer-Dieskau and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (1969); and Ruth Ziesak and Andreas Schmidt (1991).

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Wolf’s settings of Paul Heyse’s mid-19th-century translations of Italian folk verses offer an intricate and colourful tapestry of reflections on life and love. The craftsmanship of these songs is truly amazing. The piano writing has a definite life of its own. Wolf has the vocal lines and piano accompaniments in almost constant dialogue, totally independent but each one subtly complementing and being complemented by the other. In this respect, Parsons’s musical interplay with the singers is masterly. Bonney’s delivery and interpretation range through meltingly beautiful pianissimo phrasing to feisty playfulness. Her voice now has an almost iridescent quality. Hagegård provides several haunting and poignant cameos with his distinctive warm baritone, but he is occasionally prone to roughness, sounding strained rather than passionate. This is a vivid and characterful recording with some magical moments, particularly from Bonney. As a jury, I am staying out on this one and not making a final recommendation until next month when Hyperion releases its recording with Felicity Lott, Peter Schreier and Graham Johnson. Elise McDougall