Stone Records is a privately owned English recording company founded in 2008 by opera singer Mark Stone. His original intention was to produce his own recordings; and his earliest releases included his performances of English love songs, the complete songs of George Butterworth, and a selection of songs by Ronald Corp. 2011 saw the first release in a project to record the complete songs of Frederick Delius, followed by a far more ambitious undertaking, a comprehensive account of the complete songs of Hugo Wolf.
To get an idea of the scope of this latter project, the Wikipedia page for Wolf estimates that the full project should run to eleven or twelve discs. However, the author of that page anticipated that the project would be complete by 2013; but this year marked the release of the sixth CD in the set. Things are clearly proceeding slower than anticipated.
To account for where things currently stand, the titles of the six recordings released thus far are as follows:
- Mörike Lieder (songs 1–26)
- Mörike Lieder (songs 27–53)
- Italienisches Liederbuch
- Keller, Fallersleben, Ibsen & other poets
- Heine, Reinick, Shakespeare & Byron
- Lenau & Spanisches Liederbuch (Geistliche Lieder)
All but the last of these has a page on Amazon.com to which the associated hyperlink points. Amazon is not yet listing the sixth volume, but the hyperlink points to the ClassicsOnline page from which it can be downloaded. (The five previous CDs are also available there for download.)
The musicians associated with this project are all involved with the Oxford Lieder Festival. The one artist appearing on all recordings is the pianist Sholto Kynoch, the Festival’s Artistic Director. Stone himself is one of the contributing vocalists.
Taken as a group, these six recordings, even if they are only a “halfway mark,” make for more than highly satisfying listening. These collections demonstrate that Wolf was not only a prodigious composer but also a man with a prodigious appetite for literature, particularly by German authors. Indeed, many of his publications focused on a single author (Eduard Mörike, Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Michelangelo). These tended to be authors whose poems had been set by other composers, such as Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann. However, those composers rarely influenced Wolf, who was far more interested in the dramatic intensity that had been tapped by Richard Wagner’s operas. Thus, while, for many listeners, these recordings will offer unfamiliar settings of familiar texts, such as the poems by Heinrich Heine that Schumann selected for his Opus 48 Dichterliebe, Wolf’s voice (which he apparently referred to as “Wölferl’s own howl”) is as intriguing as it is unique.
For those unfamiliar with Wolf’s personality, he was born in 1860 and was recognized as a child prodigy at the age of four. He attended the Vienna Conservatory, where Gustav Mahler was one of his fellow students. As a mature individual, he was known as “Wild Wolf” for the intensity of not only his music but also his personal expression. One consequence of his wildness, however, was syphilis, which had begun to consume his brain by the middle of 1899. He had himself committed to an asylum in Vienna, where he died in 1903. His mature work took place between 1888 and 1896.
What is most interesting about the Stone project is that, like Wolf’s publications, it has collected the songs according to author. Thus, any single recording provides a valuable perspective on Wolf’s conception of a particular author through both the selection of the poems and the strategies for setting them. These are recordings from which one may learn as much about literature as about music. I suspect I am far from the only one who, after sampling the recordings that have already been released, now look forward with great enthusiasm to the releases to come.