Among the post-Gerald Moore, post-Geoffrey Parsons accompanists, Hartmut Höll has attracted attention as a collaborator with his own ideas about singer/accompanist partnerships. With his wife, mezzo soprano Mitsuko Shirai, and with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau during the final years of the baritone's long career, Höll has demonstrated an often grittier approach, although some critics have felt him less polished than his predecessors. Höll, nonetheless, has shown a readiness to explore the outer edges of the song literature, frequently bringing into new focus lyric works by lesser, or less well-known, composers.
At the Stuttgart Conservatory, where Höll was pursuing his studies in the 1970s, he met his future wife. Shirai, though born in Japan, had acquired great facility in German and her interest in literature attracted the activist temperament of the young pianist. As a student of composer/accompanist Hermann Reutter, Höll was afforded the opportunity of serving as accompanist for master classes being given by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. The great singer was impressed by both Höll's work for her classes and by his performances with Shirai.
In the early '80s, Höll came to the attention of another great lieder artist and became Fischer-Dieskau's regular accompanist. He remained with the baritone for 14 years, providing probing and conscientious support amidst Fischer-Dieskau's occasional projects with concert pianists less adept at collaboration. In recordings and one extant video, Höll demonstrates great spontaneity, confirming the conclusions of a writer in The Christian Science Monitor that he is a pianist "of spiky originality and great emotional depth."
Through a substantial series of recordings for the Capriccio label, Höll has been able to explore with Shirai both standard and not-so-standard repertory. Mozart and Brahms were each treated to close re-examination in discs produced in the 1990s. An example of fresh exploration was heard in the 1991 release 2x Winterreise, in which the singer and accompanist performed the cycle on one disc, while on the other Höll performed the accompaniment to the violin playing of Tabea Zimmermann and readings of the texts by Peter Härtling. Other composers whose songs have been recorded by Höll and Shirai include Robert Franz, Viktor Ullman, Hugo Wolf, Alban Berg, Reutter, Hanns Eisler, and Karl Michael Komma.