WOLF: Mörike Lieder – Susan Dunn, soprano/ Thomas Potter, baritone/ John Wustman, piano – MSR

by | Dec 15, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

HUGO WOLF: Mörike Lieder – Susan Dunn, soprano/ Thomas Potter, baritone/ John Wustman, piano – MSR Classics 1337 (2 CDs), 148:32 [Distr. by Albany] *****:
Child prodigy, pianist, violinist, critic, and depressed composer Hugo Wolf maintained an ardent devotion to the music of Wagner his whole life, and dared to criticize such a luminary as Brahms, thereby putting himself squarely in the modernist camp of that particular nineteenth century debate. Early studies with one professor who called his music “damned” caused him to abandon music altogether for a time and his other studies were never very successful. He was eventually able to make a go at teaching, where it was rather his personality instead of talent that enabled him to earn a living. But his wild mood swings (which affected him his whole life) and excessive temperament made him all but inaccessible except to his closest friends—who also had trouble with him.
Eventually he turned to criticism, earning the appellation “wild Wolf” and he made many enemies. During this time he continued to compose and his songs came to the attention of Liszt—whom he admired—and he was advised to try some larger forms, though this was not to be his forte. Soon he curtailed his critical activities and began composing more frequently, though he had terrible problems getting performed. The years 1889-90 were feverishly important to him. He travelled to the vacation home in Perchtoldsdorf of the Werners whom he had known since childhood to compose in solitude. Here he composed the Mörike-Lieder very rapidly, the first of a series of major lieder cycles that are his claim to fame today, even though he always felt that true success was to be found in the larger forms—a strange thought for one who idolized Chopin.
These 53 songs are exquisite examples of pregnant creativity found in small packages; Wolf’s lieder are never long, but contain a world of emotion in few notes that are highly concentrated and perfectly suited to the text at hand. Susan Dunn, one of the great Verdi sopranos of the last 30 years and now in charge of the opera department at Duke University, has long wanted to record this with one of her early mentors, pianist John Westham, and that the opportunity was afforded is all to our benefit as she sings with great affection and marvelous expression. Baritone Thomas Potter, no slouch himself, takes the reins when a male perspective is called for. All in all this is a wonderful set that does great honor to Wolf and gives us much pleasure from first to last. Brava!
—Steven Ritter

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