The Times
Geoff Brown
Crying Wolf
As a lieder composer, the depressive and adventurous Austrian master HW has never won the audience's popular vote, which seems permanently reserved for Schubert. That didn't stop the lustrous Jonas Kaufmann and Diana Damrau spending last February with their excellent accompanist Helmet Deutsch touring 12 European cities with Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch - 46 compact songs, ardent, coquettish, despairing, comic, on the bottomless topic of love. Packed houses and rave reviews. And now this album recorded live in Essen. In one respect, purchasers enjoy a big advantage over those at the concerts: they can't see the singers' fussy platform business (oops Liz!)..the shrugs and heart beating, the flouncing and flirting. Kaufmann and Damrau clearly
engineering all that to help Wolf's anthology of song (pointedly not a planned cycle) into a broadly convincing series of intimate dramas, one song seemingly answering the next. But we're much better off listening blind (oops again Liz!). Damrau's bright and piercing soprano is particularly telling, very effective when teasing and playing the coquette, or digging out the smallest nuances in the texts of these anonymous ditties, suavely translated into German. Just occasionally she misjudges her effects, as in the comic Ich esse nun mein Brot. The Essen audience laughs just the same.' Kaufmann's singing doesn't penetrate the words to the same degree, although that's not such a problem since most songs cast him as the lovestruck male who thinks his lover more beautiful than Siena and Orvieto's cathedrals. The tenor hits his peak in another vein, in the song Sterb' ich, contemplating his flowery grave in affecting bleached tones and long phrases sustained with immaculate breath control. In all these songs we are aware too of the third artist at this feast, the pianist Deutsch. Whatever the songs' kaleidoscopic demands - brusque cries, delicate embroidery, unsettled harmonic shifts, the comic imitation of an appalling violinist - he is ever judicious, perfect and precise: a pianist you could take anywhere. With this crack team, you could almost do the same with Wolf

 back top