Der Knabe und das Immlein
Das verlassene Mägdlein
Italienisches Liederbuch Auch kleine Dinge
Spanisches Liederbuch In dem Schatten meiner Locken
Du meines Herzens Krönelein, Op.21/2
Meinem Kinde, Op.37/3
Ich schwebe wie auf Engelsschwingen, Op.48/2
Die Nacht, Op.10/3
Mein Auge, Op.37/4
Schön sind, doch kalt die Himmelssterne, Op.19/3
Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden, Op.68/2
Barbara Bonney (soprano) & Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
Recorded in June 1989 in Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg-Harburg
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: June 2006
CD No: DG ELOQUENCE
Duration: 55 minutes
Although contemporaries (Richard Strauss was born only four years after Hugo Wolf), much separates these two great song composers (not to mention the fact that Strauss lived on for another 46 years after Wolf’s death), not least their aesthetics; for example, Wolf chose poems of the highest quality while Strauss saw the impossibility of adding to what was already perfect, generally preferring less exalted texts; then there is Strauss’s affinity for the human voice and his focus on melodic beauty as opposed to Wolf’s sometimes mannerist attention to declamation and rhythmical and harmonic effects in order to heighten the expression.
Of course, these are only generalisations, and this recital disc by Barbara Bonney (here, in terms of vocal beauty, at least, captured in her prime) and the late Geoffrey Parsons, reissued on super-budget-price Eloquence, contains many exceptions where one can hear both Wolf’s soaring melodies and Strauss’s meticulous word-painting.
The programme brings together some of both composers’ best-loved songs, including selections composed during Hugo Wolf’s own ‘year of song’ (1888) and from Richard Strauss’s youthful Opus 10 (1885) and Opus 27 (1894) written to celebrate his marriage to soprano Pauline de Ahna. Throughout, Bonney’s interpretative nuances never compromise her trademark sense of line and beauty of tone, thought the reverse is not always true, and the occasional vowel is distorted in the interests of legato or appropriate dynamics, something Fischer-Dieskau would not have countenanced. Compare his “Verborgenheit” (from the fine Deutsche Grammophon recording with Barenboim) with Bonney’s; Fischer-Dieskau’s sense of drama in the third stanza is also much more convincing.
Bonney’s singing is very beautiful indeed (“Das verlassene Mägdlein” and “Morgen!”, to name but two examples, are truly exquisite), but the trade-off is a narrowness of expressive range and tone colour. One need only listen to Christine Brewer’s rapturous crescendo in Strauss’s “Allerseelen” (on Hyperion, with Roger Vignoles), or Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s wonderful characterisation in Wolf’s “In dem Schatten meiner Locken” (also DG, with Gerald Moore) to realise Bonney’s shortcomings – such as they are, for there is much to make up for them!
It is hard to fault Geoffrey Parsons’s accompaniment, though one senses an occasional lack of spontaneity. But listen to his spacious, measured prelude and postlude in “Morgen!” or sparkling figurations in “Ständchen” – nothing is wanting. And his sense of balance, of carefully weighting each chord against Bonney’s voice, is perfect, as in “Verborgenheit”.
The sound recording is just right for the ultimately intimate nature of these performances; John Williamson’s booklet note is concise and informative. A worthy reissue at any price.