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Stone Records’ latest release of Wolf’s songs completes his ‘Spanish’ collection

Hugo Wolf's birth house in Slovenj Gradec (now in Slovenia)
Hugo Wolf's birth house in Slovenj Gradec (now in Slovenia)
by Ajznponar, from Wikimedia Commons (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

About a year ago I wrote about Stone Records project to record all of the songs of Hugo Wolf. The label is privately owned, founded in 2008 by opera singer Mark Stone, who is also one of the vocalists contributing to this project. My article provided a review of the “state of play” after the release of the first six recordings.

The seventh recording in the series was released this past April, and it is a logical continuation of the sixth. That predecessor coupled twelve settings of texts by Nikolaus Lenau from a variety of different publications with the Geistliche Lieder (spiritual songs) collection from the Spanisches Liederbuch (Spanish songbook). These are all settings of old Spanish poems translated into German by Paul Heyse and Emanuel Geibel. The ten songs in the Geistliche collection are followed by 34 Weltliche Lieder (worldly songs); and the seventh recording consists of all 34 of them.

This puts the Spanish collection on roughly the same scale as the Italienisches Liederbuch (Italian songbook) collection. However, the Spanish collection is the earlier one, published in 1891. The Italian collection (all texts translated into German by Heyse) was published in two volumes in 1892 and 1896, respectively; and it was followed in 1897 by the Michelangelo Lieder. (Unless I am mistaken, Wolf left Michelangelo’s poems in their original Italian form).

As a song composer, Wolf was far more interested in the individual spirit of each of the poems he set than he was in whether or not “national color” would be appropriate. Thus, any “characteristic Spanish” references in this new recording are few and far between (and may even be only coincidental). More interesting is how he teases out the more human “worldly” relationships, most of which involve perspectives on love, particularly since this is a “narrative theme” that he will then pursue more extensively in his Italian collection.

Still, these are collections, rather than “song cycles.” They are not structured within a unifying narrative framework, nor were they intended to be. The only time I experienced one of these collections performed in a concert setting, it was the Italian set. The experience was rather like walking through an art gallery, but the vocalists knew how to make every stop along the way an interesting one. The same can be said on Sholto Kynoch, who continues to be the pianist for all of the recordings in the Stone project, and the vocalists participating in this particular recording, soprano Birgid Steinberger, mezzo Anna Huntley, tenor Benjamin Hulett, and baritone Marcus Farnsworth.

Given the high standards that Stone has brought to his project, this recent addition is definitely a welcome one.