Wolf: Mörike Lieder

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wolf
LABELS: Fuga Libera
WORKS: Mörike Lieder
PERFORMER: Dietrich Henschel (baritone), Fritz Schwinghammer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: FUG 568

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The Mörike Songs are Wolf’s first fully mature compositions, and, written when he was 28, they remain unsurpassed for subtlety and originality in the whole of his output. Mörike’s mainly brief lyrics were waiting for a composer of equal quirkiness, and certainly found one.

Poems that begin erotically turn out to be ardently religious, while ‘A girl’s first love song’ is outrageous, figuring her lover as a snake writhing uncontrollably over and in her. Wolf rises to all these occasions, and some of his drollest songs are here, including ‘The Farewell’, in which he kicks an impertinent critic downstairs to the strains of a Viennese waltz.

Dietrich Henschel sings 45 of the songs, all that a male sensibly can. They are so concentrated that listening the whole way through at one go is not recommended. Henschel is a student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and could quite often be mistaken for him, though I find his voice more appealing than his master’s. He goes in far a huge dynamic range, and I found it difficult to stay with one volume setting.

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There are times when he just shouts, others when he whispers; yet overall the effect is of a singer eager, but not too eager, to get the full import of these often complex miniatures across. He is superbly supported by Fritz Schwinghammer. The packaging is posh, and the poems well translated, though not line for line. The English translation of the good accompanying German text is absurd, stating, for instance, that Wolf wrote 39 of the songs on one day. Michael Tanner