> Hermann PREY: Decca The Singers series [RJF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Hermann PREY, baritone (1929- )
‘The Singers’ series

Arias by Rossini & Mozart. Lieder by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and R. Strauss
Piano accompaniment by Karl Engel. Various orchestras conducted by Abbado, Solti, Böhm
Rec. Britain, Austria and Germany, 1962-71
DECCA 467 901-2 [64.04]

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This disc is one of the first twenty, issued on the Decca label, under the generic title ‘The Singers’. The series, with another thirty in preparation, claims to represent the artistry of the greatest singers from first century of recording. The track selection was made by the late John Ardoin and is somewhat idiosyncratic in the face of the collected treasuries of DG, Philips and Decca.

These discs are more than merely sonic CDs but ‘multimedia’, being enhanced for those with ROM facility, to include photo gallery, biographies and texts. If you lack ROM facility you get a booklet with brief essay and track listing, the latter lacking such basic information as to the operatic character singing the aria! The presentation aims to be different and unique, being a cardboard case within a plastic slip case emblazoned ‘The Singers’

Hermann Prey, born in 1929, passed his adolescence in wartime Berlin where he played the accordion and sang in the Mozart Choir. He later contributed lighter fare for the occupying troops. His good voice went along with an attractive outgoing personality and good looks: together these brought offers of a career in popular music. However, it was to the classical repertoire that he turned, making his operatic debut in 1952, after which he sang in all the world’s major opera houses and festivals. His beautiful lyric baritone was admired in Mozart (Guglielmo, Papageno, Figaro and Count Almaviva), and Rossini (Figaro), of which there are examples on this disc, also in Verdi (Germont père), Rodrigo and Wagner (Wolfram).

Like his great contemporary and elder by four years, Fischer-Dieskau, Prey’s greatest love was lieder, to which both men brought keen intellects to their understanding and interpretations. It is songs by the great German lieder composers that dominate the rather meagre 64 minutes of this disc and where Prey is well accompanied by Karl Engel. The 1962 recording is rather flat, and lacks presence.

Given the vast lieder repertoire it would be easy to wish for this or that in exchange for what is included. Prey’s voice is in fine condition and I was particularly taken by his singing of Schubert’s D799 (tk 8) where his soft expressive singing is outstanding; similarly Schumann’s Mein Rose (tk 2) is heartrending with a lovely mezza voce, while Der Hildalgo (tk 11) could do with a lot more weight of voice. Of the Brahms, Wiegenlied (tk 14) is sheer magic and in die Mainacht, which follows, Prey really rises to the heights. Given the meagre timing, 10 minutes less than the other discs in this series, I would have liked to hear him in Wolfram to round off this fine, brief survey of lieder superbly sung.

Of the opera extracts, the 1972 recording of Rossini’s Barber under Abbado has Prey at his scintillating best in Largo Factotum and in Dunque io son with Teresa Berganza. The two extracts of his Papageno under Solti (rec. 1970) are a delight whilst his Figaro seems somewhat lightweight when compared with the bass baritones who have recorded the part; nor is he helped by the rather backward balance and flat acoustic. Despite these reservations, Prey’s sparkle and bite come across. Interestingly, the exemplary essay by John Steane accompanying the issue finds Prey and Fischer-Dieskau complementary: both great singers.

Robert J Farr

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