Composed in feverish bouts interrupted by long periods of inaction, Hugo Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch was brought to completion in 1896. The 46 songs are settings of poems in German by Paul Heyse, after Italian folk songs – miniatures with a duration of less than 2 minutes in most cases. Heyse’s collection numbered more than 350 poems, but Wolf ignored the ballads and laments, and concentrated almost exclusively on the rispetti. These are short love poems which chart, against a Tuscan landscape, the everyday jealousies, flirtations, joys and despairs of men and women in love. Heyse’s translations often intensify the simple Italian of the original poems, and in their turn, Wolf’s settings represent a further heightening of emotion. Miniatures they may be, but many of the songs strike unforgettably at the heart.
When Wolf’s songbook is performed in its entirety, it is usually done by a male and a female singer, although this is not specified in the score. It is not uncommon for them to be transposed, but the songs are written for high voices, and are here performed by a soprano and a tenor – Carolyn Sampson and Alan Clayton – with Joseph Middleton at the piano. The performers have chosen to present the songs in the order they appear in the printed collection, dividing them between themselves.
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