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CD: Crotchet

Fritz Wunderlich sings Operetta and Opera Arias
see end of review for details
rec. 1956-1958
REGIS RRC1314 [59:20]

Experience Classicsonline


When BBC Music Magazine in 2008 invited sixteen noted opera critics to vote for the best tenors ever, Fritz Wunderlich was ranked number four, after Plácido Domingo, Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti and with Jussi Björling as number five. One can argue that what polls of this kind show is the taste of the participants rather than the absolute truth. Who can state with certainty that Domingo - or Caruso, or Björling - they have also been ranked number one in other polls - is the all-time-greatest? There is however some kind of consensus that in these lists that a certain number of singers always appear there, and of the twenty names on this BBC list, I would certainly have included at least a dozen of them on my list - though not necessarily in the same order. But Wunderlich would certainly be close to the top for me as well. Few singers in recorded history have sung with such melting beauty, such elegance and very often with such involvement.

He left a vast recorded legacy when he died in an accident in 1966. He was then only in his mid-thirties and should have been able to sing for at least another twenty years. During the last few years of his life he was a Deutsche Grammophon recording artist and took part in legendary recordings of Die Zauberflöte (Karl Böhm), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Eugen Jochum) and Wozzeck (Böhm again), his Weihnachtoratorium with Karl Richter is justly famous and even more so Die Schöpfung with Karajan, which wasn’t fully finished when he died: the arias were recorded but Werner Krenn was brought in for the recitatives. Wunderlich was also a fine Lieder singer and recorded both Die schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe.

But he had come off to an auspicious start as early as 1955, when he was signed up by the Württemberg Staatstheater in Stuttgart and took part in his first complete opera recording, singing three roles in August Wenzinger’s epoch-making La favola d’Orfeo. And even during these early years he recorded a lot, opera as well as lighter music. What we hear on the present disc is a fine offering of opera and operetta arias and four duets with the fine soprano Friederike Sailer, who was also a member of the ensemble in Stuttgart. None of these duets are real standard fare. Der Bettelstudent and Der Zarewitsch are no doubt played but these particular duets are not among the best known numbers, and both Künneke’s Zauberin Lola and Dostal’s Monika were new to me. I believe that the arias from Der Waffenschmied are also unfamiliar to many readers outside the German speaking world and Strauss’s Der lustige Krieg has been rarely performed, even though it was a success when it was first performed on 25 November 1881 at the Theater an der Wien. It was performed 69 times during its first run and was during Strauss’s lifetime one of his most frequently played operettas. Marchese Sebastiano’s waltz in the second act, Nur für Natur, is arguably the hit number.

It must be said right away that Fritz Wunderlich was ideal for the repertoire on this disc. As a Mozart singer he had few superiors - Simoneau, Dermota and Gedda the only serious competitors - and in the youthful German tenor repertoir and in operetta it was again Gedda that could challenge his supremacy. Both singers were natural heirs to Richard Tauber and both had more brillant voices.

Some thunderous noise at the beginning of Dies Bildnis from Die Zauberflöte seems to indicate that this is from a live event, and the liner notes tell us that it was a broadcast performance of the opera from 1958, conducted by a young Bernard Haitink, and in the role of the first boy, no less a star than Elly Ameling could be heard. Though Wunderlich sings with his customary elegance and sense of style, he sounds uncharacteristically strained here. Possibly he wasn’t sufficiently warmed up, since the second aria, Wie stark ist nicht dein Zauberton, is superb in every respect. The sound in these two excerpts is a little dim, whereas the Zaide aria, recorded two years earlier in the Liederhalle, Stuttgart, during the Mozart celebrations is much better. The aria from Die Jahreszeiten is powerful and expressive and the well known aria from Martha is sung with wonderful legato.

Albert Lortzing’s operas are not very much in vogue at the moment, though actually both Undine and Der Waffenschmied are performed this season in German opera houses. All three arias are attractive and especially Vater, Mutter from Undine is lovely.

The highlight - for me anyway - is Nur für Natur from Der lustige Krieg. Sung here with glorious tone and Viennese swagger it stands out as something of the best Strauss ever wrote - and it is recorded in spectacular stereo. Als flotter Geist from Der Zigeunerbaron is executed with tremendous ardour and elan, only Gedda can be mentioned in the same breath.

Whether Wunderlich was the fourth best tenor ever is always open to debate. That he was one of the very best tenors can never be questioned and this disc is a wonderful - and cheap - reminder of his capacity in recordings made when he was in his mid-late twenties.

Göran Forsling   

Details
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Die Zauberflöte
1. Dies Bildnis ist beazubernd schön [4:21]
2. Wie stark ist nicht dein Zaubertön [3:05]
Zaide
3. Ja, nun lass das Schicksal wüten [3:38]
Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Die Jahreszeiten
4. Gefesselt steht der breite See [6:34]
Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812 - 1883)
Martha
5. Ach so fromm [2:41]
Albert LORTZING (1801 - 1851)
Undine
6. Vater, Mutter, Schwestern, Brüder [3:43]
Der Waffenschmied
7. Man wird ja einmal nur geboren [4:51]
8. War einst ein junger Spriinginsfeld [3:50]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899)
Der lustige Krieg
9. Nur für Natur [3:14
Der Zigeunerbaron
10. Als flotter Geist [2:40]
Carl ZELLER (1842 - 1898)
Der Obersteiger
11. Sei nicht bös [3:22]
Karl MILLÖCKER (1842 - 1899)
Der Bettelstudent
12. Nur das eine bitt’ich [3:59]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 - 1948)
Der Zarewitsch
13. Hab’nur dich allein [4:50]
Eduard KÜNNEKE (1885 - 1953)
Zauberin Lola
14. Du warst von Angeginn [4:18]
Nico DOSTAL (1895 - 1981)
Monika
15. Ein Walzer zu zweien [4:14]
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor), Friederike Sailer (soprano) (12-15); Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Bernard Haitink (1, 2); Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart/Alfons Rischer (3, 6-8), Hans Müller-Kray (4); Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Artur Rother (5); Stuttgart Philharmonic Orchestra/Fritz Mareczek (9, 11, 12-15); Chorus and Orchestra/Werner Schmidt-Boelke (10)

 


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