Before his untimely death at the age of 35, Fritz Wunderlich made a lot of recordings for both DG and EMI, mostly for the German market, hence the reason why all the excerpts from French, Italian and Russian opera are sung in German.
That said, regardless of language, Wunderlich’s gorgeous, lyric, golden-voiced tenor gives us a glimpse of a near ideal Rodolfo, Duke of Mantua, Lensky, Cavaradossi and Elvino.
This 5 disc set gives us 2 discs of operatic fare from Handel and Mozart to Verdi and Puccini, 2 discs of Lieder (complete recordings of Die schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe and various other Lieder by Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven) and a final disc of popular Italian and German songs, such as Lara’s Granada and Sieczynski’s Wien, Wien, dur du allein.
One of the most disarming elements of Wunderlich’s singing is that sense of pure joy in the act of singing itself, and it’s a quality that is hard to resist. True, there have been deeper, more probing versions of the Schubert and Schumann cycles (even by Wunderlich himself, when captured in concert a year later), but few sung with such consistent beauty of tone.
Stand out tracks for me are the Mozart items (arias from the Böhm Die Zauberflöte, and the Jochum Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Lensky’s Kuda, kuda from Eugene Onegin. His opening lines in the Act IV duet for Rodolfo and Marcello from La Boheme (sung with Hermann Prey) are sung with a poetic beauty of such sorrowful radiance, that questions of language are totally forgotten, and this carries through to Cavaradossi’s great E lucevan le stelle from Tosca. As Elvino (a lovely Prendi, l’anel ti dono from La Sonnambulawith a somewhat quavery Erika Köth) he sings with a shy diffidence that is thoroughly charming, and what Gilda would not be conquered by the seductve tones of this Duke?
My once critcism would that be he occasionally aspirates fast moving moving music, most in evidence in the Lortzing excerpts, but in all he displays a strong personality, and, once heard, there is no mistaking him.
The popular items might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is here that his gift of communication is most in evidence, singing with sheer uninhibited pleasure. One of my favrourite tracks is his performance of Lara’s Granada. You get the feeling that he arrived in the studio feeling pretty good that day, and the golden outpouring of tone, right up to a couple of glorious top Cs, is infectiously enjoyable. It’s hard not to listen with a smile on your face.
In the grand scheme of things, Wunderlich would have gone on to have a great career, no doubt feted as one of the greatest tenors of his day, but it wasn’t to be and he was killed in an accident just a few weeks short of his 36th birthday. How lucky we are that these recordings exist to remind us of what the world lost.