Italienisches Liederbuch (Edith Mathis, Peter Schreier/Karl Engel)*



The texts of the 46 Italian songs are German translations of Italian popular verses written in a courtly style, like a cross between music-hall and Minnesang. Hence their great variety and range; north to south, high and low. Among these peaks of Wolf's art there is always room for new views, new perspectives. But this box seems to me so lacking in depth as to border on the two-dimensional. Not that the singing is in any sense flat; far from it. Edith Mathis, in alert and appealing voice, offers some effective characterizations; Peter Schreier produces his usual effortless flow of limpidly sweet and sustained tone, with exemplary articulation. The trouble begins with the piano parts, which sound too piano and too partial. The constant bright focus on the voice gives the impression of lightness, both vocal and interpretative.

    But this is not light music; it is always fraught with tension and significance. It needs firm controlling hands at the keyboard to steady the pulse and diagnose the most tender spots. Tentative treatment can be fatal. Thus in Sterb ich, Wolf's “if I should die” is surely analogous to Rupert Brooke's in its strength of feeling. Peter Schreier sounds as if he is not expressing his will but making it. Conversely the piano interlude after "vorüberstehle" in O wär dein Haus substitutes a skittish scampering for the unobtrusive tiptoe required by the text. The vocal vagaries are worse. Thus in Wer rief dich denn? Edith Mathis conveys the superficial resentment well enough, but misses the lingering tenderness. No one would guess from this performance that Wolf has indicated three distinct diminuendos to suggest (what else ?) an involuntary softening of the heart, along with the tone. Not one is properly observed. Even if I am mistaken about the meaning, and the lady is indeed supposed to be just letting her hair down, can it be right to take out Wolf's hairpins? In Dass doch gemalt, which describes a woman so beautiful that one might, like Tamino, fall in love with her portrait, Wolf's lyric goes further and claims that all the heathen would instantly be converted. Peter Schreier apparently feels that this hyperbole is rather implausible. So he sings "flugs" (instantly) with what sounds like irony, applying a dismissively light touch to this and the following phrase. But this too seems to me to miss or mar the exquisite musical point. And again, even if I am mistaken, it cannot be right to buy a new interpretation with spurious note-values.

    So although there is much competence and charm in these performances, and although it was good to hear that the Italian Songbook had gone into a fifth set, I'm afraid that this one, in my judgement, rules itself out of court. True championship demands a more practised approach, closer support, and fewer unforced errors. 


© Gramophone, Aug. 1977 (p. 332)