Imogen Cooper


Wigmore Hall Live: Wolf Songs

Composed by Hugo Wolf

Performed by Imogen Cooper, Wolfgang Holzmair

Wigmore Hall Live / WHLIVE0029 / Recorded live at Wigmore Hall, London

Magnificently focused, with little or no sense of strain … seemingly infinite sensitivity. A very special disc.

There is a marvellous symbiosis at work between Holzmair and Cooper that is evident everywhere on this wonderful disc. You can hear it immediately in the first Lied, Auf einer Wanderung. Cooper plays, as always, with the utmost sensitivity: just listen, also, to the perfectly weighted chords of the accompaniment to the prayer-like Schlafendes Jesuskind. Holzmair projects the sense of wonder of the second stanza as eloquently as he does the magic simplicity of the scene-setting first. Cooper appears a little far back in the recorded balance.

Denk es, o Seele! is from Möricke’s novel Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag. No surprise then that D-Minor is the chosen key, the key of Don Giovanni. Cooper’s delicacy in the final bars is astonishing; out of that silence comes the famous Der Gärtner with its deceptive childish simplicity. Delicacy is once more the order of the day for Auf eine Christrose II, a song that here seems only barely to materialise on the earthly plane - something shared, to a slightly lesser extent, by An den Schlaf, heard later in the recital. In total contrast comes the frenzy of Feuerreiter, a nightmarish vision of a fairy-tale character who senses fire and abandons himself to it. The fusion of Cooper and Holzmair is best demonstrated here in Cooper's expert left-hand mirroring of Holzmair's phrasing of the recurring phrase, “Hinterm Berg, Brennt es in der Muhle!” (“Behind the hill, the mill's on fire!”).

The mystery of the advanced harmonies of Peregrina I is wonderfully caught here. The song is thematically linked to its companion, Peregrina II, and indeed they are performed here with hardly a breath between them. The latter is a picture of desolation in sound; the end hangs magnificently yet infinitely sadly in the air. Um Mitternacht seems the only course of action, the low, ululating accompaniment underpinning the gentle vocal line. All credit to Holzmair here, for his faultless honouring of the long legato lines. The disarming simplicity of Jägerlied comes as a breath of fresh air, not least in the form of Cooper's sprightly accompaniment with its wonderfully modulated staccati.

Putting the Schoenbergian Frage und Antwort right next to the popular Fussreise is lovely programming – and we hear the applause that presumably marked the end of the recital's first half. The second part opens with another harmonically complex offering, though: In der Frühe, a meditation on insomnia. Holzmair and Cooper uphold the intense concentration through the enigmatic Im Frühling.

There is a distinct Mahlerian tinge to the brief Lied eines Verliebten before Wolf's own brand of desolation is heard in pure form in Lebe wohl. Yet Holzmair has a restrained smile in his voice for that meditation on the love-bite, Nimmersatte Liebe, a smile that becomes more explicit in Elfenlied.

Zur Warnung – a musical depiction of a hangover – is beautifully characterised by both players, while Cooper's accompaniment to the final programmed song, Begegnung, is masterly. The encore, Selbstgeständnis, is exquisitely turned.

Throughout, Holzmair’s high register is magnificently focused, with little or no sense of strain, and he characterises each song well. Cooper if anything outshines her soloist in her seemingly infinite sensitivity. A very special disc.

Colin Clarke, MusicWeb International

Rarely have I heard so sensitive, intelligent and gloriously musical a partnership. No-one could have asked for more attentive, detailed expressions nor more complete harmony of feeling between singer and pianist … I was transfixed by the sheer artistry.

The Independent

Two qualities distinguish the singing of Wolfgang Holzmair - he has the exact measure of his light, high baritone, breathing freely, without a moment of strain, so that the voice can really sing. And his performances have possibly the closest focus of any baritone of his generation: imagination and intelligence have clearly worked long on every word, its placing and its tone of voice.

BBC Music Magazine

The partnership between Cooper and Holzmair is so close, it’s almost symbiotic

Seen & Heard International

…more often pleasure is virtually unalloyed, whether in the trance-like wonder of "Im Frühling", the tiptoeing delicacy of "Elfenlied" (a hard song for a man to bring off) or the deft comic timing in "Zur Warnung", evidently relished by the Wigmore Hall audience.

Gramophone, February 2010