Orfeo D'Or C445961 (F) (AAD?) TT: 79:35

The death in July 1999 of the superb German baritone Hermann Prey at the age of 69 was a great loss to the music world. At the time of his passing, Mr. Prey was still an active performer in recital and opera. Contrast Hermann Prey's longevity with that of his dear friend and colleague, tenor Fritz Wunderlich. Wunderlich—one year Prey's junio—died in a tragic hunting-lodge accident September 17, 1966, at the age of 36. Wunderlich, who had already enjoyed great success in Europe, was scheduled to make his met debut that fall as Don Ottavio in Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Fortunately, Wunderlich was a prolific and superlative recording artist, and several complete operas and recital albums perpetuate his memory. Orfeo has issued this splendid CD that presents him in a series of live performances, in studio-quality (albeit mono) sound, of Sunday concerts with the Munich Radio Orchestra. The recordings span the years 1961-1966 and present this magnificent artist at the top of his form.

The opening selection, a technically superb and emotionally fervent rendition of Mozart's treacherous aria "Ich baue ganz" from the last act of The Abduction from the Seraglio, demonstrates why Wunderlich was one of the greatest Mozart tenors of this century. From there, the disc proceeds from strength to strength, with Wunderlich's gleaming tone and obvious joy of singing evident at every turn. Many of the selections replicate music Wunderlich recorded in the studio, but the presence of an audience here seems to inspire an even greater sense of involvement on his part. Wunderlich's melting renditions of arias from The Magic Flute, The Elixir of Love, Eugene Onegin and La Boheme< haunt the memory long after the music has concluded. Most of the selections regardless of their original language are sung in German, as was Wunderlich's custom. However, Wunderlich was such an elegant and accomplished singer that his renditions of Italian and Russian opera in German sound entirely convincing and even idiomatic.

In addition to various arias, Wunderlich is joined by other artists for duets from The Barber of Seville, La Cenerentola, La traviata and Madama Butterfly. Particularly noteworthy is an impassioned Butterfly Act I duet with Pilar Lorengar. The recital concludes with a joyous rendition (in Italian) of Leoncavallo's Mattinata. That performance, recorded the year of Wunderlich's death, reminds us of a loss that was truly irreplaceable. While it is sad to ponder what could have been in the career of Wunderlich, it is also wonderful to celebrate what was. For that, this new Orfeo disc offers bounteous rewards and deserves the highest recommendation.

K.M. (Nov. 1999)