SCHUMANN: Dichterliebe, Op. 48; BEETHOVEN: Adelaide, Op. 46; Resignation; Der Kuss; SCHUBERT: Der Einsame; Nachtstueck; An die Laute; Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren; An Silvia; Der Musensohn – Fritz Wunderlich, tenor/ Hubert Giesen, piano
Hanssler Classic CD 93.701, 58:09 [Distrib. by Allegro] ****:
From the Schwetzingen Festival 19 May 1965, we are privy to a beautifully recorded recital by one of the world’s most naturally gifted tenors, Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966), whose serious commitment to lieder evolved in 1964, two years prior to his untimely demise. With his mentor-accompanist Hubert Giesen, Wunderlich provides a stirring account of Robert Schumann’s song cycle derived from Heine’s’ poetry, Dichterliebe (1840), a series of meditations on passionate love as interpreted through flowers, dreams–good and troubling–and fairy tales. Recent scholarship reveals that Schumann, with his typical, anagrammatical subtlety, inscribed key letters from the word “Dichterliebe” into the musical tapestry, including his usual allusions to Clara, Robert, and Raro, the fusion of feminine and masculine energies in his psyche. Similar to Schubert’s tragic ending for Die Schoene Muellerin, the persona in “Poet’s Love” sees himself dead from a broken heart, buried in a huge coffin cast into the sea, his love and suffering borne to the bottom.
In the course of Schumann’s 16 songs, Wunderlich displays–in spite of contemporary critics’ cavils–a wealth of coloristic and interpretive nuance, from the lyric, tender, pantheistic outpouring of “Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai” to the bitter resignation of the last song, “Die alten, boesen Lieder,” the old bad lyrics and angry, bitter dreams to be buried in a heavy coffin. Whereas one critic berated the singer for “a sustained mezzavoce,” I hear several fortes worth noting, as in the martial “Aus alten Maerchen winkt es,” a dream-vision of a magic land of amorous choirs, a step away from Coleridge’s Xanadu. No muted trumpets in the ninth song, “Das ist ein Floeten und Geigen,” that announces his beloved’s wedding to another. His detached, unearthly tone in No. 10 would make him eligible to be cast in Berg’s Lulu. The fluid, silken tone never deserts Wunderlich, as well as that justly celebrated for communicating eternal youth in his voice. The passionate impatience of the third song, “Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne,” captures the essence of romantic ardor in naturalistic conceits. And Wunderlich can whisper, too, as the beloved’s “Ich liebe dich” in the fourth song. How anyone can “accuse” Wunderlich of a monochrome in “Ich grolle nicht” baffles me, since his voice assumes a cutting edge of bitter understatement and irony. “I saw the night and serpent in your heart!” And Giesen, too, replaces his otherwise water-lily runs with slashing cadences that well depict a treacherous amour.
Beethoven’s Adelaide (1796), the poem by Matthison, is set in two parts, a lyric (Larghetto) outpouring in B-flat Major for an unattainable, beautiful woman; and a death-fantasy of flowers and erotic coupling, Allegro molto, on F above middle C, a clear display of the love-death that haunted Wagner and the Romantics or the principals from Romeo and Juliet. Wunderlich projects relative restraint through Beethoven’s lyric fantasia, his muse requiring more submission than self-consuming ecstasies. Despite the title “Resignation,” both Wunderlich and Giesen take up sad arms against their fate. “The Kiss” occupies an entire opus number, 128, in Beethoven’s catalog. A two-minute bagatelle or a summation of Beethoven’s spiritual starvation for affection?
Wunderlich ends his program with six Schubert songs whose subject matter ranges from lonely meditation to the mythic symbolism that lies behind the natural or simple, rustic world. “Der Einsame” moves through G Major, F Major, and E Major, Wunderlich easily gliding to a high G as the mood, which looked into the dying embers of a fire, peers into the self, trying to find tranquility in the chirrups of a cricket. “Nachtstuck” elicits a silvery legato from Wunderlich over sustained fluid arpeggios from Giesen, the night rife with thoughts of time, lost love, and mortality. “To the Lute” celebrates the lyric Orphic impulse to create, to savor life in all its manifestations, a floating dance that bursts into an intimate serenade from Wunderlich. A Sailor’s Song to the Dioscuri combines a water-element with a pantheistic faith in the watchfulness of Nature, here embodied by Castor and Pollux. Both Wunderlich and Bjoerling sing “An Silvia” with subdued, erotic infatuation; here, Wunderlich’s voice swells with passionate pride. The Son of the Muses rejoices in his creative nature in G Major, Goethe’s equivalent to Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Wunderlich and Giesen leap across the intervals with rhythmic and tonal facility, obviously born of the gods.
— Gary Lemco