A new CD is available from Romantic Discoveries Recordings.
Piano Music of Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
John Kersey, piano
Twelve Mörike Lieder, transcribed for solo piano by Max Reger (1873-1916): 1. Jägerlied 2. Er ist’s 3. Begegnung 4. Fussreise 5. Verborgenheit 6. Elfenlied 7. Der Gärtner 8. Schlafendes Jesuskind 9. Gebet 10. Rat einer Alten 11. Gesang Weyla’s 12. Selbstgeständnis
Piano Sonata in G major, op. 8
15. Allegro gracioso 16. Largo et sostenuto 17. Scherzo 18. Rondo Allegro (incomplete)
Our thanks to Dr Klaus Tischendorf for supplying scores of these rare works.
Wolf’s Lieder are so completely conceived within their medium that, short of orchestrating their piano parts, it is difficult to imagine them being presented convincingly in another guise. The option of a more-or-less free paraphrase was adopted by Bruno Hinze-Reinhold in his Piano Pieces based on ten of the Lieder, but he, as with Max Reger on this disc, was doubtless well-aware that any attempt at Lisztian filigree or abandonment of such carefully worked-out textures would depart unacceptably from the spirit of the original.
Max Reger is known to us above all as a master of the Germanic school of polyphony, and it seems to have been that aspect of Wolf’s work that most appealed to him. Reger’s choice is most frequently to submerge the vocal line in the midst of others, and not infrequently in a chordal texture, which creates a challenge for the performer that would not be altogether obvious to the casual listener. Indeed, by taking this approach, Reger causes us to question whether the vocal line is indeed primus inter pares, or whether at times it is in fact subordinate to the piano part. His transcriptions bring out the intricacy of Wolf’s writing and also enable the intensity of his world to be conveyed within broader tempi than could be comfortably sustained by the human voice. The result is something of a new departure that recasts these familiar works into a new sound-world.
The Piano Sonata op. 8 dates from 1876, when Wolf was aged 16 and in the midst of his two years of studies at the Vienna Conservatoire. In the previous year, he had met Wagner, who had encouraged him and would become a major model for the younger composer. However, Wolf’s impassioned temperament and tendency for outspokenness was not suited to the discipline of conservatory study and he was to part company with the institution on less than amicable terms. This sonata has some aspects reminiscent of Wagner’s own solo piano output, though more that suggest the influence of the Viennese classics, and also points to Wolf’s desire to explore the piano’s interpretative possibilities (as he would do later and with greater success in his Lieder).
The manuscript of the sonata is mostly devoid of dynamics and articulation, and in some aspects carelessly written, with many missing accidentals. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to discern Wolf’s intentions, and what emerges is an energetic and optimistic work which suggests a young man keen to make an impression and show ability in dealing with a large-scale compositional canvas. Already in the thematic material there is plenty of strength, with the slow movement particularly striking in its recall of Beethovenian and Schubertian models. Structural issues are mainly well-handled (though the development in the first movement is cursory at best). The last movement is incomplete, breaking off in the middle of an episode; the remaining pages were likely completed by Wolf but have since been lost.
The Albumblatt (1880) and Kanon (1882) are Wolf’s last works for solo piano; by now he had found his feet as a composer, though was suffering much emotional disturbance due to his unhappy affair with Vally Franck and a not altogether successful period as a music teacher in Vienna. The former work in particular, with its striking harmonies, shows that Wolf had marshalled the elements that would form his mature style.