Fritz Wunderlich, tenor. Born September 1930. Died September 1966, thirty-six years old. What happened? We will never really find out. He was hunting with his best friend, the baritone Hermann Prey. They’ve been drinking. Officially he tripped over his shoelaces and fell down the stairs. That may be true, although the rumors and gossip about his death are very harsh. But: does it really matter? One of the best tenors in the world was, just like that, dead at the age of thirty-six.
Fritz Wunderlich and Hermann Prey sing Bizet’s Pearl Fishers duet, in German:
We, the ‘surviving relatives’, we can consider ourselves lucky, because he left us quite a few recordings. Lots of songs (his Dichterliebe is to cry, so beautiful!), but also operas. Lots of operas. More than you could imagine.
The first thing you notice when you listen to Wunderlich is its great naturalness and total lack of artificiality. His diction was clear but nowhere too emphatic – a flaw that most lieder singers of his generation were guilty of. He knew how to find a perfect balance between word and music and any form of mannerism is foreign to him. In many ways he remains the ideal interpreter of… of everything actually. Schubert, Schumann, Mahler… But also Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Puccini.
Fritz Wunderlich sings Lensky’s aria from Evegeny Onegin. The recording is from 1962
And then suddenly, just out of the blue we are surprised with a box with three CDs filled with previously unreleased recordings. At least not officially. That makes a little collector’s heart beat faster. And if it’s not enough: the CDs contain fragments of rarely performed pieces of music, all composed in the twentieth century. I imagined myself in a real candy store because I had not even heard of many of the composers.
No, it is not about forgotten masterpieces. I think so, because how can you judge a composer after hearing just one aria? The first CD, with Raphael, Neumayer, Bausznern and Helm, is actually nothing more than a cabinet of curiosities, but the Pfitzner (and Reutter) fragments on the second CD make me sit up straight and prick up my ears. Genius!
Below, Wunderlich sings ‘Der Abend’ from Hermann Reutter’s Triptychon:
When I arrive at the third CD I wonder why we were not allowed to hear the recordings before. Could the life course of some composers here have something to do with oblivion? Pfitzner was a Nazi. And so were Egk and Orff, two of four composers on the third CD as well. I don’t really want to think about that too long, because the fragments from Berg’s Wozzeck, recorded in 1956 in Württenburg, make me more than happy. Certainly also because of one of the greatest Wozzecks in history, the now almost completely forgotten baritone Toni Blankenheim.
Musik des 20.Jahrhunderts
Works by Günter Raphael, Fritz Neumeyer, Dietrich von Bausznern, Everett Helm, Heinrich Fleischner, Hans Pfitzner, Hermann Reutter, Igor Stravinsky, Carl Orff, Werner Egk, Alban Berg
SWR Classic SWR19075CD (3CDs)