Hugo Wolf Society, Vol. 1
These are regrettably frustrating and ill-managed reissues given what might have been. In 1981, not long before the advent of Compact Disc, EMI lovingly reissued the pioneering Hugo Wolf Society recordings, using—in large measure—original masters on vinyl pressings to reveal them in a new light, as though they were cleaned paintings, the singers in the room with you. To complete one's pleasure they included Ernest Newman's masterly notes on the songs. These, and the texts and translations were printed on the same buff paper, such as was used for the original booklets. I reviewed the box-set with unalloyed enthusiasm (HMV, 3/81) at the time, commenting that, with the silent surfaces, ''the voices leap out at the listener in all their pristine glory''.
Until now one earnestly hoped that EMI would transfer the whole issue to CD. Instead, Pearl have stepped in and given us very much third-best: we are back with crackly 78rpm surfaces and even these records have been rather cavalierly transferred to the new medium. Although the issue is at top medium price Pearl haven't provided texts and translations, only skimpy summaries, and the notes are quite inadequate considering the import of the release. Nor have Pearl added songs intended for a Vol. 7 of the Society (these were happily included on the LP set). I trust that Pearl's issue will not prevent EMI from giving their attention to these recordings. Nevertheless, if you can find the LP reissue, snap it up—the number is RLS759.
In spite of my strictures, you will be able to discern the many qualities of this first generation of Wolf interpreters, and what a pleasure it is again to hear a 'mix' of singers rather than one voice throughout a CD. Gerhardt, of course, had the original Vol. 1 to herself. She is an acquired taste. Once you have overcome her eccentricities regarding shortness of breath, occasional pitch problems and intrusive portamento, you can enjoy her honesty of purpose and heart. Volumes 2 and 3 (of the original issue) are dominated by the instinctive art of Janssen and Husch, the one catching the inner mood of his chosen songs through his aching, introspective voice, the other wonderfully warm and present in the lighter and/or amorous songs. Here, too, are Schorr's famously heroic reading of Prometheus with orchestra and McCormack's ecstatic Ganymed (pleasure limited somewhat by his quirky German) and Kipnis's perhaps unsurpassed version of the Michelangelo Lieder. Trianti, not everyone's favourite soprano, brings a welcome touch of artless spontaneity to lighter songs such as Blumengruss.
In Pearl's second box we have Rethberg and Ginster—straightforward, firm in tone, unvarnished in interpretation—in the women's songs from the Italian Songbook, Husch and Kipnis at their most communicative in the men's songs, making their points without bulges in tone or excess of verbal painting (who could resist Husch in Gesegnet sei?). Though some may feel that Kipnis is at times a shade too operatic, that aspect of his readings becomes a positive virtue in the sardonic piece about the naughty monks.
All these singers again contribute splendidly to Vol. 5, with high marks awarded to Rethberg's urgently eloquent
For Vol. 6 Walter Legge, who masterminded the whole, adventurous enterprise, introduced some new singers. Roswaenge's hair-raising Feuerreiter once heard can never be forgotten; Erb's distinguished and refined art is well represented; Fuchs is intense and sincere as Mignon. Janssen returns for five more unforgettable readings and Lemnitz aptly closes the project with her easeful, sunny account of Wiegenlied im Sommer. The various pianists give thoughtful support but are too backwardly recorded. So eventually the quality of the reading consoles us for the scratchy surfaces and the other inadequacies of this venture.'