WOLF: Prometheus (Orchestral Lieder) = Spanisches Liederbuch; Morike-Lieder; Goethe-Lieder – Juliane Banse, sop./ Dietrich Henschel, bar./ Berlin German Sym. Orch./ Kent Nagano – Harmonia mundi Gold HMG 501837, 69:25 *****:

Hugo Wolf is the song writer that Richard Wagner should have been; though criticized in some quarters for his so-called “clumsy” orchestrations, to my mind they are anything but. The Wagnerian connotations are everywhere in his harmonies, and when blended with these rich tapestries of orchestration it becomes all the more obvious. Wolf put a selection of 24 lieder to orchestra as the demand for these kinds of things was increasing in his day, the popularity of concert arias from operas diminishing somewhat. For the most part they are stunning examples of what he was capable of, and for one of the rarest instances in the history of music, you can actually believe that they add to the overall effect of the work, which is usually not the case.

Even the dramatic clutter of a song like “Prometheus” survives to give our listening experience a boost in unexpected ways. And the chorus/orchestra arrangement of “Der Feuerreiter” has got to be heard to be believed, elevating this song to the level of high opera in its emotive power. Well, after all at least four of these songs did end up in Wolf’s unfortunately failed operatic work.

Juliane Banse and Dietrich Henschel bring their “A” games to this recording, which is by the way, a re-release from 2005, though well-deserved. Henschel especially reminds me of a young Fischer-Dieskau when his voice had a lighter yet still burnished temperament, and both artists sound as if they are in love with this music. Well, why shouldn’t they be? There is nothing here not to like! Nagano seems the perfect choice for this music as it fits his rather dark and romantic predilections, and such proves the case. The sound is first-rate, and this is a very desirable release.

—Steven Ritter