Monday, February 24, 2014

New collection of Hugo Wolf's lieder yields insights

Hugo Wolf
Spanisches Liederbuch
Italianisches Liederbuch

Birgid Steinberger, soprano
Michaele Selinger, mezzo-soprano
Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
Russell Ryan, Georg Beckman, piano

3 CD set
Bridge Records

Most of Hugo Wolf's slender catalog of works is lieder, and the bulk of his reputation as a composer rests with two massive collections: the Spanisches Liderbuch (Spanish Songbook), and the Italianisches Liederbuch (Italian Songbook). This new 3-CD set from Bridge presents both of these massive works with texts in both German and English.

Both books are complete song cycles, although most of the lied are finely-crafted miniatures that can be (and are often) performed separately. Bridge presents these works in their entirety. The three singers involved provide variety, and in the case of the Italian songbook, an almost give-and-take dialogue between the mezzo-soprano and baritone as they alternate songs.

Birgid Steinberger's clean, pure soprano has an ethereal quality to it that's  exceptionally effective with the sacred songs of the Spanish Songbook. Mezzo-soprano Michaele Selinger's voice has a slight edge to it, especially in the upper register. But that's actually a plus. Contrasted to Wolfgang Holzmair's rich, honeyed baritone, it helps throw both voices into sharper relief. And in the Italian Songbook, Selinger and Holzmair seem to have certain chemistry that adds an additional emotional layer to these sensual lieder.

This is a very attractive collection. One can listen to any of the lied individually and hear a fine performance. But it's also structured so that you can listen to the song cycles in their entirety. And that experience yields significant insights into these masterworks. Well done!

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