A voice that simply loves singing, and, with his finely blended vocal palette, minutely sensed pacing and some exquisite accompanying from Imogen Cooper, Holzmair's imagination finds a thrilling fusion of yearning, fear and wonder. This disc is a vital addition to any collection.
***** Pick of the Month
BBC Music Magazine, February 2003
Joseph von Eichendorff's evocative poetry redolent of forest depths, love's joys and disappointments, melancholy brooding, and dark night thoughts, inspired countless composers. Baritone Wolfgang Holzmair has put together a lengthy (78-minute) program of songs set to Eichendorff's texts, ranging from the early Romantics to Aribert Reimann, and the results are fascinating. Schumann's Liederkreis is at the center of his explorations, and Holzmair's light, flexible baritone (he's the Pelléas in Haitink's recording of Debussy's opera) is at its happiest here. Holzmair amply demonstrates the beauty of his upper register in Intermezzo, his command of legato in Mondnacht, and his ability to characterize and to project drama in Waldegespräch. He brings just the right touch to Ich hör' die Bächlein rauschen, where he captures the disturbing, unsettled music and text without the sentimentality some singers bring to the story of the desolate traveler far from home. In Auf einer Burg his precise diction and smoothly focused singing sustain tension so you're hanging on his every word. At times though, there's a hint of understatement, so the sheer dread beneath the surface of songs such as Im Wald just misses its full impact. Nine Eichendorff settings by Hugo Wolf offer different challenges to an interpreter, and Holzmair meets them handily. He's in sync with Wolf's often quirky ironies and sharply drawn vignettes. So in Der Musikant, Holzmair affects a voice brimming with good cheer and a lilting swing. His voice in Das Ständchen is as bittersweet as the text, and he summons the anger that makes the suicidal rejected lover of Seemanns Abscheid a real figure and not simply an over-the-top instance of Romantic imagery. And his lovely upper register and the tenderness with which he infuses the voice make a bright gem of Vershwiegene Liebe. There's more, too: four attractive Mendelssohn songs frame a pair of real finds by Robert Franz, a younger contemporary of Schumann, three nondescript Hans Pfitzner songs, and interesting ones by the young Erich Korngold and Alexander von Zemlinsky. The novelty is Nachstück by Aribert Reimann, five songs from as many unrelated stanzas from various Eichendorff poems. Reimann sets passages for unaccompanied voice, indulges in 12-tone techniques, and digs deeply into darker subtexts, putting a knife-edge onto settings of apparently innocent poetry. There's an angry, driven postlude to the third song, Vor dem Schloss in den Bäumen. Nachstück is a fascinating anti-Romantic exploration that bears repeated listening. Holzmair and his partner Imogen Cooper--a co-equal, not just accompanist--are as comfortable with Reimann's modernism as with Schumann & Co.'s Romantic gestures. The program ends on the high note of Otmar Schoeck's tenderly evocative Nachtruf. A release no lover of Lied should miss.
Dan Davis, ClassicsToday.com, March 2003