Saturday, 4 June 2011

Hysterically funny 70's Hugo Wolf

Hysterically funny clip from a 70's movie made for Hermann Prey.  Omigod, look at the tie, the suit and the glitter tree in the back. This is a document of culture history. But then listen. This is far and away the best recording I've ever heard of Hugo Wolf's Der Abschied, and I've heard most of them. Prey is so animated, and so funny yet he's singing so accurately that he's absolutely true to score. This takes guts. Often, singers worry about being note perfect and in the process lose the real nature of the song. Prey is note perfect AND gets the point! This song is unique, nothing else like it in the repertoire.

A pompous stranger enters unnannounced and tells the protagonist his nose is too big. Ich habe die Ehr', Ihr Rezensent zu sein! (I have the honour sir, to be Your Critic") Usually this song is taken at face value, assuming that the vistor is a reviewer because Wolf was a composer and music critic. But read the full text carefully, and remember that the poet Eduard Mörike was often wildly kooky. Maybe the visitor is the protagonist himself, stalking his own shadow!  There can be a darker reading, when you remember that both poet and composer were manic depressive, and needed to chase away "the black dog". In any case, it's a gloriously witty piece that lets Mörike and Wolf indulge in satirical hijinks. Listen to how the visitor is depicted and how maniacal the protagonist gets when he boots the critic down the stairs. Full text and translation on Emily Ezust's wonderful site.

This is a brilliant performance because Prey captures the sense of wicked glee so well.  His diction's so crisp, yet he lets his tongue roll "r"'s viciously, and flattens his vowels when he's singing the visitor, who's some provincial boor despite his airs and graces. He cuts words just enough so the pace speeds up, and stretches them to slow down. And the mock waltz!  Prey's not singing "badly" and the pianist's heavy-handedness is deliberate, carefully judged.  Also watch Prey's body language, it's so expressive. Admittedly this is a song that benefits from "acting".  But it proves yet again that movement isn't fatal for good singers who make it a natural part of what they do. Po-faced Fischer Dieskau could never do what Hermann Prey does here. And Prey could sing opera, while DFD was stiff. It's an object lesson for aspiring singers, to trust their instincts as long as the voice is right. 


davidzalden said...

Just couldn't read this and not comment -- Fischer-Dieskau stiff and couldn't act? Why must you praise Prey by bashing F-D? Of course Prey had a beautiful voice and a charm all his own, but F-D was one of the towering artists of the last century. His recitals were intense, focused, dangerous. Certainly some of the best acting I ever experienced. Watch the incredible Arabella video from Munich -- he and Della Casa are so detailed, vulnerable, committed. They are right up there with Callas, Gobbi, Vickers, Scotto, the greatest singing actors of our age. Stiff???

Doundou Tchil said...

DFD has been an important part of my life for 45 years. He's like a father figure to me and I've listened to nearly everything. I'm a fan but not a fanatic. Unfortunately some of DFD's following are fanatical extremists, who cannot accept that he is not God. That attitude is anti-art because it substitutes personality cult for real artistic engagement. Art is greater than any one individual. Fanatics aren't interested in art. Remember the Kathy Burke character in Stephen King's Misery ?

It's not DFD's fault that some of his more extreme followers are the way they are but ultimately they are destructive to the very ideals of art that he and many others stand for. And yes, I do think DFD's stiff. So what? It's part of his persona. Prussian schoolmaster's son after all. It just does not follow that DFD's perfect, or that everyone else must be the same as he was.

davidzalden said...

I am in no way a Fischer - Dieskau fanatic, although I count his recitals as some of the great experiences of my concert-going life. I am lucky (?) to be old enough to have lived through the incredible resurgence of the song recital--when I was growing up in NYC Christa Ludwig, Schwarzkopf, Fischer -Dieskau, Fassbaender, Janet Baker, Ameling, Evelyn Lear and many more gave annual recitals and one missed them at the peril of missing something precious and irreplaceable. If anything, I could be called a Janet Baker fanatic -- it is she who I guess I loved most of all and who gave me my greatest experiences in recital. You do not need to be a fanatic to revere a great artist and feel the need to speak out when you read something with which you disagree.

Doundou Tchil said...

Everyone reveres great artists but most people are sane enough to realize that there's a difference between reverence and idolatry. Normal people who revere an artist revere the art the artists serves. Idolators, on the other hand, don't care about the art but the icon. That's why they're too insecure to cope with the idea that their God might after all be human. Normal people don't have to "speak out".

The "World's Greatest DFD fans" are in fact his worst enemies. They don't care about the art, because they want it mummified in his glory. That's anti-art. Genuine reverence isn't neurotic. Go read Stephen King's book Misery, or see the movie.

Because I care about DFD and his art, it sickens me that the personality cult his "Greatest Fans" have created mars his legacy.