This is a noble recording, but only if you take it in several doses, otherwise you might succumb to the melancholy which was Brahms's regular state, or even the more desperate condition into which Wolf descended. They were contemporaries, but their allegiances were diametrically opposed: Wolf a passionate Wagnerian, Brahms a self-conscious member of the Classical tradition. The songs on this disc show them as close as they ever got, settings of poems and texts of almost unrelieved earnestness and gravity. Alastair Miles launches his recital with Wolf's titanic Prometheus, sounding like Wotan at the end of his tether. The next song, The Limits of Mankind, also Wolf, takes us to the opposite pole: 'a small ring is the limit of our life'. This pair makes an ideal coupling, and with the Three Poems of Michelangelo, Wolf's last and profoundest utterances, show him in his darkest light.
The first set of Brahms is, by contrast, peaceful and even contented. the CD finishes with the Four Serious Songs, from the end of his life, ranging from the anguish of 'Oh Death, how bitter you are' to the exalted setting of Corinthians I, verses 1-13. To my mind Brahms's music fails to rise to the sublimity of Paul's text, but Miles, here as throughout, uses his powerful, truly bass voice to magnificent effect. And the accompaniments of Marie-Nöelle Kendall provide the perfect support for what is a most impressive and elevating sombre disc.