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Fritz Wunderlich (tenor)
Mozart Contemporaries
rec. Kaiserslauten and Stuttgart, 1957–1962
SWR MUSIC SWR19059CD [74:20]

German Süwestfunk’s own label SWR continue to issue material from their archive of broadcast recordings with Fritz Wunderlich – and obviously it is close to in exhaustible. Anyway it is a goldmine in every respect, and it is remarkable how much Wunderlich recorded during the few years he was active before his untimely death in an accident on 17 September 1966. The latest issue contained “Music before Bach” with rarities en masse, and here comes “Mozart Contemporaries” – some of them little known: who was familiar with Holzbauer, Reichardt or Righini – others represented with works off the beaten track. The only number everybody knows is the bonus track Ombra mai fu. Fritz Wunderlich obviously had an inquisitive mind and obviously was strong-willed enough to convince the producers that these works were worth recording. Open-minded music lovers will find a lot of enjoyable music here, once again proving that those composers who have been reduced to footnotes in the history books were no mere also-rans and moreover in several cases highly regarded – not least by Mozart himself.

That the singing is on an elevated level goes without saying. I can’t state that I have heard everything that Wunderlich recorded, but of what I have heard not a single number has been inferior, not even mediocre. Just listen to the first track on the disc: Günther’s aria from Holzbauer’s Günther von Schwarzburg. It may not be a forgotten masterpiece, honestly a little four-square, but Wunderlich minimizes that effect admirably through his careful phrasing. There is some florid singing, very well executed, and he has glowing Spitzentöne. Add to this his clear enunciation, which is a model of its kind and one can with confidence lean back in one’s favourite chair and just have a wonderful musical experience. And this is just his calling-card: On every-one of the thirteen tracks his singing is so assured, so beautiful.

One can savour the enthusiastic singing in Gluck’s L’Innocenza giustificata, a one-act “festa teatrale”, first performed at Burgtheater in Vienna in 1755, seven years before Orfeo ed Euridice. An exact contemporary of Mozart was Vincenzo Righini, who studied with Padre Martini in his hometown Bologna, and later lived in Vienna between 1777 and 1788, where he most certainly should have made Mozart’s acquaintance. Among other things he wrote a Don Giovanni, like Mozart’s work also performed in Prague. Alcide al Bivio was premiered in Koblenz in 1790, and even though Righini is regarded as “a skilful, but not very original composer” (Wikipedia), the long recitative and aria performed here has a lot to recommend it (tr. 6). The two bonus tracks, by two composers not contemporaries of Mozart, are wholly delightful and round off the disc admirably.

But there are several numbers where Wunderlich is joined by other singers, most prominent the excellent Belgian soprano Elisabeth Verlooy, who appears in four duets. She is clear-voiced and has her technical skill is first-class. It comes as no surprise to read in the booklet that she was much appreciated by for instance Georg Solti for her Queen of the Night, Susanna and Rosina. Highlights here are the scenes from Reichardt’s Brenno and Paisiello’s La Molinara. Paisiello was in his lifetime best known for his Il barbiere di Siviglia, which was later over-shadowed by Rossini’s opera with the same name, but Paisiello’s version is still performed from time to time. La Molinara, performed in Vienna in 1790, may have been seen by Mozart, and if so he should have been delighted with the duet Nel cor più non mi sento, exquisitely sung here by Elisabeth Verlooy and Fritz Wunderlich.

Luigi Cherubini is today best known for the opera Medée (Medea in Italian) from 1797. But Les deux journées ou Le porteur d’eau from 1800, in German titled Der Wasserträger, was also a success, especially admired by Beethoven and Goethe for its dramatic qualities. One of the greatest composers of their time, they stated. There is proof of this statement in these excerpts, not least in the extended finale of Act I (tr. 10). Among the soloists, by the side of Wunderlich, the excellent soprano Hildegard Hillebrecht shines. Just listen to the duet Mich trennen sol lich von dem Gatten (tr. 9).

As usual with these issues from the archives the technical quality is high, thanks to the remastering work by Boris Kellenbenz and Gabriele Starke. No one can suspect that these are recordings made 55 to 60 years ago. The richly informative liner notes by Lothar Brandt, from which I have culled some of the information, are also admirable. A self-recommendable issue for Fritz Wunderlich-fans but worth attention also for the unhackneyed repertoire.

Göran Forsling

Contents & details
Ignaz HOLZBAUER (1711 – 1783)
Günther von Schwarzburg:
1. Schönster Sohn des Himmels! Holder Frieden! (Arie des Günther) [5:13]
2. O König! Deine Hand ist für mein Wort das sichere Pfand (Duett Anna/Karl) [7:19]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787)
L’Innocenza giustificata:
3. Alte Eiche an schwindelnden Hängen (Arie des Valerus) [3:59]
Johann Friedrich REICHARDT (1752 – 1814)
4. Santi numi del cielo – Stelle! Che dici? Cara! Che dir mi vuoi? (Rezitativ und Arie der Aostilla und des Fabius) [7:46]
Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740 – 1816)
La molinara:
5. Nel cor più non mi sento (Duett) [6:24]
Vincenzo RIGHINI (1756 – 1812)
Alcide al Bivio:
6. Questo agevole a ameno – Dei clementi, amici dei (Rezitativ and Arie des Alcide) [9:38]
7. Alme belle, fugitte prudenti (Quartett) [5:42]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760 – 1842)
Der Wassenträger:
8. O du meine Erretter (Terzett Konstanze – Armand – Micheli) [4:52]
9. Mich trennen soll ich von dem Gatten (Duett Konstanze – Armand) [4:03]
10. Gott! Täuscht mein Auge mich nicht (Finale 1. Akt) [9:53]
11. Dies Schweigen ist so fürchterlich (Ensemble 3. Akt) [3:54]
Bonus Tracks:
Alessandro SCARLATTI (1660 – 1725)
La Rosaura:
12. Quei povero core [2:33]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
13. Ombra mai fu [2:56]
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor); Elisabeth Verlooy (soprano) (2, 4, 5, 7), Hildegard Hillebrecht (soprano) (8 – 11), Christa Lippmann (soprano) (10),Margarete Bence (contralto) (7), Robert Hoyem (tenor) (10, 11), Klaus Bertram (baritone) (11), Marcel Cordes (bass-baritone) (8, 10), Günter Nöcker (bass) (7), August Messthaler (bass) (10), Walter Köninger (bass) (11); Rundfunkorchester des Südwestfunks Kaiserslauten/Emmerich Smola (1 – 7, 12), Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Hans Müller-Kray (8 – 11); Alfons Rischner (13)


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