"It is hard to believe, but Hugo Wolf is still an underrated composer." That's how Ian Bostridge, the Oxford educated English tenor, opens his notes to this recital of Wolf lieder. He is, of course, right. It is hard to believe, and it is also sad but all too true. While the lieder of Wolf's forbearers Schubert and Schumann and contemporaries Mahler and Strauss are frequently programmed and recorded, Wolf's own lieder still seem to be the property of specialists. One can understand why. For all their melodic beauty, harmonic ingenuity, rhythmic subtlety, Wolf's songs require almost too much from the listener: too much attention to their nuances, too much empathy for their emotions, too much soulfulness for their profundities. Until more listeners are willing to give themselves whole-heartedly to his music, Wolf is destined to remain underrated.
Will Bostridge's own Wolf recording with conductor cum pianist Antonio Pappano do anything to change that? Probably not: for all the strength of his dedication, for all the depth of his sensitivity, for all the lean but limber power of his voice, Bostridge's performances can do little to change minds and ears that are closed. So while the cognoscenti will appreciate the coy sensuality of his Nachtzauber, the eternal freshness of his Im Frühling, and the ethereal ecstasy of his Ganymed, casual lieder listeners content with Die Schöne Mullerin will remain unconvinced until they are willing to sit down and really pay attention. For those who do, a whole new world will open up. For those who don't, it won't. EMI's 2006 digital sound is rich, ripe, and full.