Fritz Wunderlich - Opera Arias
Like Kathleen Ferrier, Fritz Wunderlich rose from obscurity to fame in 10 years, then died prematurely in his prime. Both have since been raised to near-sainthood. As happens to artists who die young, they will always and happily be remembered at the height of their careers.
Already in the 1950s Wunderlich, though not yet 30, was in demand throughout Germany, especially on the radio; the Arts Archives release discloses a mature singer, if not yet one of fully formed interpretations. The first of several versions of Tamino’s Portrait aria from Die Zauberflöte reveals his perfect control of tone and line, even if the depth of feeling for the text is never quite there. The aria from the unfinished Zaïde is a another and welcome souvenir of the singer’s skills in Mozart from as early as 1956.
The other pieces, apart from the First Prisoners’ small contribution to the chorus from Fidelio, are drawn from radio performances of works from the German repertory that have not travelled abroad. The fresh, sappy tone is ideal in the Lortzing and Kienzl numbers, where the tenor’s tone soars freely and easily. It is also well suited for the long scene between the ardent Nureddin and the garrulous barber of the title in the Cornelius opera, a work that ought not to have fallen into neglect (I caught it, with pleasure, some 20 years ago, with Popp and Seiffert as the lovers, in Munich). With the highly experienced Kurt Böhme as Abul Hassan, this extract is the pick of the bunch here.
At the 1966 Edinburgh Festival he made what proved to be his final public appearances, days before the accident that caused his death, Wunderlich was, I recall, in wonderful form, much more emotionally involved and subtle in expression than in some of his earlier performances of Lieder. This CD derives from a third-generation copy of a BBC broadcast in very poor condition. With present-day miracles of restoration the sound is not that bad, so that the Wunderlich family have at last permitted its release by DG.
Wunderlich seems to be warming up in the Beethoven group but he sings a wonderful Adelaide nonetheless. Once he reaches the first two songs in his Schubert group, that delightfully cosy piece Der Einsame and the song of the dying musician that is Nachtstück he finds a vein of interpretative feeling that gives vocal poetry to all of this well-chosen group and continues in the Schumann cycle.
His reading of Dichterliebe had gained greatly in expression compared with his studio account of a year or so earlier. This is an involved performance that goes to the heart of the matter, most notably in ‘Ich hab im Traum geweinet’, even if the whole doesn’t quite bare the soul as much as Peter Schreier, or Ian Bostridge with Julius Drake – and there one touches on a shortcoming of this recital. Hubert Giesen, one of the tenor’s mentors, was never more than a competent pianist and that, plus the flutter present throughout in the recording of the keyboard, lames the Schumann in particular; but the beauty and intensity of Wunderlich’s singing here and in the encores is not to be denied or missed, Die Lotusblume perhaps the most affecting performance on the whole CD. Accordingly to the booklet, the tenor himself was aware of the added emotion in his singing on this occasion – intimations of mortality, who knows?