Daily Telegraph


No 44,901 Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Ilse Wolf

Refugee who introduced Lieder to the Proms

iLSE WOLF, the soprano who has died aged 78, made a name for herself from the mid-1940s as a concert artist and an interpreter of Lieder.

She was in much demand for broadcasts in the early days of the Third Programme, singing a wide repertory. On the platform she was greatly admired as a Bach singer; and she was the first artiste to sing Lieder at the Proms, with songs by Schubert in 1969.

Her stage appearances were limited by her small stature, though she did appear once in opera, in Mozart's Il re pastore at the now defunct St Pancras Festival. In concert, she appeared with the Chelsea Opera Group, as Countess Almaviva in Il nozze di Figaro.

Ilse Wolf was born into a Jewish family on June 7 1921 and grew up in Duren, near Cologne. Forced to flee Nazi Germany, she made her way to England in 1939.

After a period of internment, she was released and made her home in London, where she remained for the rest of her long and fruitful career.

While she studied singing with the highly regarded teacher Helene Isepp (who taught Dame Janet Baker), Ilse Wolf worked in an aircraft factory. Then she became Madam Isepp's assistant and began giving recitals with Martin Isepp, Helene's son. They formed a close-knit artistic partnership that continued throughout her career.

Ilse Wolf soon made a name for herself in recital and oratorio, both in Britain and on the Continent, and worked for a while with Pablo Casals at his festival at Prades. In addition to Lieder, she sang a good deal of British song, and several English composers wrote pieces for her.

She had a pure, clear soprano which she deployed with the utmost artistry. Her line was always secure, and her feeling for words and their meaning was instinctive. Free from over-emphases, her readings represented the very best in the performance of Lieder.

She recorded Lieder with Martin Isepp, and also works by Monteverdi, Bach and Handel. Latterly, she was a sought-after teacher.

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