V0456. MITSUKO SHIRAI & JOSEF PROTSCHKA, w.Hartmut Höll (Pf.): Spanisches Liederbuch (Hugo Wolf), recorded 1990; Mitsuko Shirai, Josef Protschka Cornelius Hauptmann, Christopher Spä, Oliver Widmer, etc. w.Hartmut Höll (Pf.): Manuel Venegas - Opernfragment - recorded 1989, incl. full texts in German of all songs and the operatic excerpts. (Germany) Capriccio 10 362. Long out-of-print, Final Copy. - 4006408103622
“The south possessed an almost mystical fascination for Wolf, representing directness, primal passion, and Nietzsche's call to ‘Mediterraneanize music’. The largely anonymous folk verse of Spain and Italy, translated by Paul Heyse and Emanuel Geibel, served as a Mediterranean focus in the Spanish and Italian songbooks, whose composition occupied him from 1889 to 1891, and again in 1896 for the second half of the Italian Songbook. Given that so many of those songs are richly compact of character and situation, it was inevitable that Wolf - making slow headway with his lieder in winning recognition as a composer - would wish to leap to fame at once by exploring the world of the songs in the extended form of an opera. Finding a suitable libretto became a bedevilment, but the scenes Wolf wished to project seemed to him implicit in the works of Spanish writer Pedro de Alarcón (1833-1891). Wolf pressed a friend, the modestly talented amateur Rosa Mayreder, to adapt Alarcón's novel THE THREE-CORNERED HAT and, overlooking her libretto's weaknesses, composed DER CORREGIDOR at white heat in 1895. Its production in Mannheim the following year produced only a succès d'estime, but lured Wolf to attempt to surpass himself. With the Italienisches Liederbuch completed, he pressed Mayreder to adapt Alarcón's EL NIÑO DE LA BOLA. Her attempts proving unsatisfactory, friends introduced Wolf to Moritz Hörnes, a history professor at Vienna University, whose quickly worked adaptation was surprisingly able. Wolf was ecstatic, declaring, ‘...Shakespeare himself could not have formed the subject matter more dramatically and at the same time poetically than Hörnes has done, and that's that!’ On July 29, 1897, Wolf set to work feverishly composing MANUEL VENEGAS. Despite interruptions, the opera's opening began to take shape as Wolf's swings from manic gaiety to irascibility became more pronounced. In mid-September his boast that he had been appointed director of the Vienna Court Opera, and had sacked the current director, Gustav Mahler, signaled the onset of madness. Inviting his friends to hear his new opera and congratulate him, on September 20 he played through the 50 completed pages of vocal score, blissful, raving, and wholly insane, as his friends clustered around him in stunned misery - a scene famously adapted by Thomas Mann in his novel DOKTOR FAUSTUS (1947). Wolf's polished fragment introduces characters and motifs without reaching the great dramatic moments that had tempted him, though the opening Spring Chorus is one of the freshest, most evocative, and inspired in his entire oeuvre.”
- Adrian Corleonis, allmusic.com
“Wolf manages to feed some songs from the Spanisches Liederbuch into the operatic fragment [of MANUEL VENEGAS] as well, and his Wagnerian inheritance makes itself apparent throughout. Also apparent is Hartmut Höll’s superbly supportive and imaginative pianism, his conveyance of sonority, mood and weight. Protschka is at his considerable best in the long and beautiful passage ‘Stadt meiner Väter, meiner Knabenzeit’ - nicely emphatic but also lyric. Mitsuko Shirai is assured enough to take some of her passages rather slowly but with great character and refinement of legato….there are some first recordings here and it’s certainly valuable to hear them, not least in such idiomatic and commanding performances. Shirai brings considerable reserves of agility, tonal nuance and power to the mezzo part. Hers is a very vibrant sound with quite an insistent, pressing vibrato (sample ‘Kennst du das Land’ to see if you are sympathetic to it)….Shirai is joined by Protschka for some of the Spanisches Liederbuch, here accompanied once more by the agile Hartmut Höll. Protschka is agile and delicate in equal measure…In fact both he and Shirai prove once again powerful advocates for this music.
Full texts in German of all songs and the operatic excerpts are included - and there is a useful introduction to the problems and complexities of these works. Idiomatic and resourceful, these are welcome reissues and strongly commended.”
- Jonathan Woolf, musicweb-international
“Think turn of the 20th-century Vienna. Think the last flowering of Habsburg imperial certainties. Then think of the darker, doomed currents surging just beneath its surface. Now think artistic creativity. Think music, and the chances are, a century on, that the first person you think of is Gustav Mahler. And there, in a nutshell, we have Hugo Wolf's problem. The living Mahler was Wolf's nemesis when they both inhabited the fiercely competitive artistic world of fin de siecle Vienna. And the dead Mahler still haunts Wolf's reputation now, days before the centenary of Wolf's own death. While Mahler's extraordinary symphonies fill the largest halls, Wolf's no less extraordinary songs still belong mainly to the connoisseur.
Almost none of this was, or is, Mahler's fault. But Mahler and Wolf made the same career at the same time in the same place. Their lives intersected at many key moments and their reputations have danced in a kind of extended counterpoint ever since. But it is Mahler who won the prizes, then and now. And that, then and now, is Wolf's tragedy.”
- Martin Kettle, THE GUARDIAN, 14 Feb., 2003