Financial Times, 18.1.2019
Richard Fairman
Wolf: Italienisches Liederbuch — natural, idiomatic singing
Diana Damrau and Jonas Kaufmann take up, and pull off, a daunting challenge

For all its beauties Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch is a hard sell. Its 46 songs are concentrated little nuggets of music to German translations of pithy, folk-like Italian poems, and add up to a daunting challenge, as much for the audience as for the singers.

In the postwar years, when Wolf’s songs were hardly a commercial proposition, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made a recording of the Italienisches Liederbuch that reigned supreme for a generation. The presence of a pair of star singers helped to attract buyers to this repertory and it is good to see that tradition continuing.

Diana Damrau and Jonas Kaufmann, both at the top of their game, bid fair to be the Schwarzkopf/Fischer-Dieskau duo of our day. They performed the complete Italienisches Liederbuch last spring on an ambitious 12-city tour, with just one day off in between. This recording comes from their date in Essen.

Seen live (their itinerary included London’s Barbican Centre), the pair indulged in an irritating amount of coy acting-out of the relationships in the songs. No sign of that survives on this audio recording and what we get is natural, idiomatic singing from two native German artists, accompanied with much well-observed detail and in a warmly supportive manner by Helmut Deutsch.

Of the two, Damrau is the more keenly communicative, sketching vivid vignettes of a flirtatious girl, a jealous or boastful lover, by accentuating the rhythms of the music and detailed word-painting in the text. Kaufmann is more broad-brush, but the male singer gets the less characterful songs and his burnished tenor, occasionally rousing itself to operatic scale, holds glowing embers of romance in its sound. Wolf is unlikely to be better served in this generation.

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