|Review by georgeflanagin May 3, 2011 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|ADHD Summary: Different from the alternatives for the /Italian Songbook/. A must for fans of Wolf, and a surprise to find this less recorded work recorded and performed so well. Prégardien is now at the top of his game, and his game is good. Kleiter has a bright future ahead.
This is review is more gasoline on the fire to hurry over to Amazon and order a copy. I don't usually see it fit to re-review Geohominid's site reviews, and I bought the disc /because of/ Geohominid's review. My review focuses on some additional information I hope will be valuable to lovers and discoverers of Hugo Wolf's music.
I first encountered Prégardien fifteen years ago on Vol. 23 of the Hyperion Schubert Edition, a collection of songs from 1816, where he somehow drew the short straw and was forced to sing "Der Tod Oscars," ... all of it. A heroic effort of dedication to the cause of completeness. (The rest of Vol 23 is very good.)
Prégardien is within a few months of my age, and I follow the natural tendency to pay attention to my age group more closely than I do the younger and older musicians. With this latest series of discs on Challenge, I just cannot think of another lyric tenor with his richness of the lower registers, seamless passaggio, and a clear head tone. Fifteen years ago, he was more clearly a tenor; now his voice is somewhat like Caruso's, which is to say he is almost a baritone who can sing higher than average notes.
Julia Kleiter is new to me, although she has been at it for a few years now. According to her bio, she got her start playing Pamina, and she brings a bit of that operatic approach to these miniatures. More on this in the next section.
Despite the protestation that Wolf is under-recorded, there are quite a few Italian Songbooks from which to choose. The half dozen in my collection take every approach imaginable, which says something about this music's sturdy backbone on which musicians have built their personal interpretations. Two widely available recordings serve as comparative references, and I have chosen these two recordings because they offer musical approaches to the material that extend to either side of the Prégardien / Kleiter / Dumno recording:
 Fischer-Dieskau / Schwartzkopf / Moore on EMI
 Schreier / Lott / Johnson on Hyperion
Let's talk about  first. The trio of musicians gives us a "theatrical" take on Wolf's /Italian Songbook/, a performance that is similar to /Spanish Songbook/ on DG in 1967, and not at all like the work that Fischer-Dieskau did with Barenboim in the mid-1970s. To hear what I mean, listen to some of the samples on Amazon or iTunes for the songs:
I: "Auch kleine Dinge ..." (notably sung by F-D!)
IX: "Daß dock gemalt ..."
X: "Du denkst mit einem Fädchen ..."
XL: "O wär dein Haus ..."
Graham Johnson marshaled a completely opposite approach when he recorded  with Felicity Lott and Peter Schreier. For me, Dame Felicity has the measure of this music better than any other soprano I have in my collection. In fact, her relaxed delivery of the nuances in these songs would have complemented a Prégardien pairing. Compare her sorrowful delivery of II: "Mir ward gesagt..." with Kleiter's slight anxiety.
To get an idea of the difference between Schreier and Prégardien, listen to XXXIV: "Und steht Ihr früh..." This song's first few measures are one of the Caruso-like moments, and from there it blossoms into the normal range. In comparison, Schreier has some stressful moments with the higher notes.
The piano playing is often overlooked, or at least it is not written up. Dumno is rhythmically intense, but he plays the music straight up without some of the strange little arpeggiations that Moore gives us on EMI. For the /Italian Songbook/, my pianistic preference is Johnson, Dumno, Moore starting with my favorite.
The reordering of the songs throws me a bit, but the effective shuffle-play also provides the chance to listen anew. The order is a matter of choice, not "right or wrong." These songs are not plotted like /Winterreise/.
As far as the SACD properties, the recording is a showpiece of accuracy and lack of affectation when it comes to the voices. The piano sounds a little far away in comparison to the singers, but perhaps that is the way it was at the recording venue? The recording is free of singer wobble in front of the microphone, and both voices sound like they were recorded in the same space. If there were edits mid-song, I did not hear them.
I suggest this album would make a good self test: familiarize yourself with the way Prégardien's voice sounds on the best hifi to which you can expose your ears, and then listen to this recording on your own system, or when you are comparing speakers. Defects will be obvious. Of course, you might just drift into the beauty of the music and forget what you are supposed to be listening "for."
A note on the cover: the photo is a collage. It looks like they are there rubbing shoulders, but the photographs were merged, making full use of the black clothing.
Bottom Line: This disc is truly great.
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