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Stefan Wolpe Songs

Excerpts from Dr. Einstein's Address about Peace in the Atomic Era (1950)
Patrick Mason, baritone; Robert Shannon, piano

Ten Early Songs (1920)
Tony Arnold, soprano; Jacob Greenberg, piano

Arrangements of Yiddish Folk Songs (1925)
Patrick Mason, baritone; Robert Shannon, piano

Songs from the Hebrew (1938-54)
Leah Summers, mezzo-soprano; Jacob Greenberg, piano; Ashraf Sewailam, bass-baritone; Susan Grace, piano

Der faule Bauer mit seinen Hunden. Fabel von Hans Sachs (1926)
Patrick Mason, baritone; Robert Shannon, piano

Epitaph (1938) Leah Summers, mezzo-soprano; Jacob Greenberg, piano


This is a hugely exciting release of unfamiliar material, all well sung and accompanied, and in exemplary presentation with all texts and comprehensive commentary.

The opening track is a howl of outrage about how the world seemed to be set on an atomic suicidal course. The early songs should not be ignored, and I greatly welcomed hearing again Tony Arnold, who impressed us in Lucerne in Jonathan Harvey - she had been the first singer to win the prestigious Gaudeamus Interpreters Prize.

Wolpe's variable early idiom is succinctly described for us as "- - stylistically disparate settings with an eclectic harmonic language that ranges from the atonal to the neoclassic, using whole-tone scales, quartal harmonies, bimodality and bitonality, and nonfunctional triads - - veers sharply from expressionism to popular idioms, including ragtime". The Yiddish Folk Songs have accompaniments that are "spare, cool, witty, and replete with modern harmonies, dissonant counterpoints, and broken rhythms".

Several singers share Wolpe's Songs from the Hebrew and arrangements of Yiddish Folk Songs; there is meat here for one of Iain Burnside's wide ranging and exploratory R3 programmes Voices. This is an accessible, invigorating oeuvre which should not have been allowed to vanish from the repertoire. A veritable treasure trove which should find a regular place on the platform of Wigmore Hall.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Read also our report of a Stefan Wolpe event at Tate Modern and afterwards follow a link there to watch and listen to the whole of a fascinating discussion and performance of his music in a webcast of that evening.