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Immortal Beloved
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
An Die Ferne Geliebte, Op. 98 [16:00]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Schottische Und Walisische Volkslieder
Fließ Leise, Mein Bächlein, Hob.XXXIa/253A [4:25]
Ein Wanderer Kommt, Hob.XXXIb:3 [1:50]
Ich Stehe Auf Der Heide, Hob.XXXIb:27 [2:01]
Es Weiden Meine Schafe, Hob.XXXIa:153 [4:36]
Im Schummern, Hob.XXX1b:26 [1:24]
Mein süßes Liebchen, Hob.XXX1a: 194 [2:20]
Rose rot, Rose weiß, Hob. XXX1b: 10 [3:05]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Heimliche Aufforderung, Op 27 No 3 [3:00]
Ich trage meine Minne, Op 32 No 1 [2:40]
Ständchen, Op 17 No 2 [2:26]
Morgen, Op 27 No 4 [3:12]
Zueignung, Op 10 No 1 [1:41]
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor)
Heinrich Schmidt (piano); Walter Weller (violin); Ludwig Beinl (cello);
Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunk/Jan Koetsier
rec. live May 1963, Vienna (Beethoven & Haydn); December 1962, Munich (Strauss) ADD
Texts not included
DECCA ELOQUENCE 482 6526 [47:50]

These recordings remind us what a tragic loss was the premature death of Fritz Wunderlich in September 1966 a few days before his 36th birthday. The Beethoven and Haydn items were recorded by the Austrian broadcaster, ORF in front of an audience – we hear the occasional discreet cough but there’s no applause. The Strauss songs were recorded under studio conditions, I think, by Bayerischer Rundfunk. This programme was once available on a Philips CD. For this latest reissue the recordings were remastered from the original tapes.

When the recordings were issued by Philips on CD the late Alan Blyth, a most experienced and discerning judge of voices, wrote of Wunderlich’s “sappy tenor and eager, unaffected, articulate way of using it.” I wouldn’t disagree at all.

The Beethoven cycle is very fine. The opening stanzas of ‘Auf dem Hügel sitz ich spähend’ are sung in a relaxed, lyrical fashion though Wunderlich opens up excitingly towards the end of the song. Throughout the cycle everything about his singing seems easy and free. Every aspect of his singing is polished, not just the technique but also the sheer sound of his voice. At all times his diction is crystal clear. The recording places him forward of the piano, which, without any disrespect to Heinrich Schmidt, is fine by me in this instance. I admire the flow and seamless legato that Wunderlich brings to the opening of ‘Es kehret der Maien, es blühet die Au’ while the impassioned cry at the end of ‘Nimm sie hin denn diese Lieder’ shows the full glory of his voice. To me he seems ideally suited to these songs.

Haydn’s arrangements of Scottish and Welsh folksongs may not be numbered among his most profound utterances but they are charming. His decision to give the accompaniment to a piano trio rather than just a piano was inspired, as this adds considerable interest. Of the three instruments it is the violin that is the most prominent and it’s a pleasure to hear the late Walter Weller as violinist in the days before he turned to the podium. Wunderlich’s singing is characterful throughout and he and his partners do these songs very well. In musical terms the pick of the bunch is ‘Es Weiden Meine Schafe’ and it receives a highly expressive performance, especially from Wunderlich and Weller. Sadly, I have to report that my disc had an important fault. Between 3:40 and 3:47 there is complete silence before the performance resumes again. I’ve listened several times and as far as I can tell no music is missing; I wonder if this lacuna is a flaw that has arisen during the remastering process. What a shame, as it interrupts the finest of these Haydn performances. Perhaps it will be possible to correct this on future pressings. I loved Wunderlich’s eager, bright-eyed approach to ‘Mein süßes Liebchen’ and the selection ends with graceful, lyrical singing in ‘Rose rot, Rose weiß’.

For me the peak of this collection is the Strauss group. That’s partly because as a matter of personal taste I think they’re the finest songs in this programme and it’s partly because these pieces allow Wunderlich really to open up his glorious voice. The orchestra is somewhat in the background but not distressingly so. Wunderlich displays a heroic ring in ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’. His rendition of ‘Ständchen’ is winningly eager and here the chirruping flutes are perfectly heard. ‘Morgen’ isn’t taken in as languidly expansive a way as some performances I’ve heard but it is still a fine performance. The set ends with a glorious, ringing account of ‘Zueignung’.

The documentation is satisfactory up to a point. It’s a pity texts and translations aren’t included; they would be especially useful for the Haydn. Uwe Kraeer provides a brief note about Wunderlich but this is general in nature and there is no reference to the performances we are hearing. The recordings are perfectly satisfactory for their age when it comes to the accompaniments but excellent in terms of presenting Wunderlich’s glorious voice.

This is a precious reminder of a great and tragically short-lived artist

John Quinn


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