V0522. HERMANN PREY, w.Wolfgang Swallisch (Pf.): Lieder by Pfitzner & Strauss. (Germany) Orfeo C524 993, Live Performance, 8 Aug., 1970, Salzburg. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4011790524122
“The recent death of baritone Hermann Prey has left a gaping hole in the world of opera and lieder singing. His intelligence and sensitivity, the full warmth of his voice, his ability to create character and mood almost instantaneously are qualities we miss already. All the more reason, then, to welcome the release of this recital of songs by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss taped live at the 1970 Salzburg Festival. Prey is accompanied by Wolfgang Sawallisch, and it would not be overstating the case to compare the partnership with Fischer-Dieskau’s and Gerald Moore’s - they think as one and phrase as one. The chosen songs, particularly those by Pfitzner, are dark–subjects are the longings of the soul, the fear of death - and Pfitzner’s dips into sheer dissonance, as in the ‘Nachtwanderer’, are very effective. The Strauss songs do not pick up the mood much, but the idiom is more familiar. The four encores include Strauss’ beloved ‘Zueignung’, a welcome ray of light at the end of the program.”
- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
“Since his New York recital debut in 1956, Mr. Prey performed frequently in New York and attracted a loyal following. Just last spring, with the conductor James Levine at the piano, Mr. Prey gave a recital of late Schubert lieder, including the composer's last song cycle, SCHWANENGESANG at the 92d Street Y. That concert concluded the Y's Schubertiade, a 10-year examination of Schubert's works, which was Mr. Prey's idea and for which he had served as musical director. An illness earlier in the year had forced him to postpone the recital. When he did perform, though his voice had frayed, the musicianship, intelligence, and unmannered expressivity that were hallmarks of his work were undiminished. Recalling that recital, Trudy Miller, who was the program director of the Schubertiade, said yesterday: ‘It was clear to all of us there that Hermann Prey was leaving a blueprint of his artistry’.
Though Mr. Prey's voice was a mellow, lyric baritone, he sang with such focused sound and robust projection that he enjoyed an active career in opera. He avoided the heavier Verdi roles, but excelled at Mozart, Gluck, Rossini, and lighter Strauss and Wagner roles. One of his great achievements was Beckmesser in Wagner's MEISTERSINGER, which he sang at the Met in 1993. To his characterization of a town clerk in medieval Nuremberg, typically portrayed as a scheming buffoon, Mr. Prey brought an emotional complexity and light-on-the-feet comic grace that made Beckmesser endearing.
Mr. Prey's voice was ideally suited to lieder, and he left a large and important discography, including songs by Schubert, Schumann, Strauss, Mahler, and Carl Loewe, a neglected 19th-century composer whom Mr. Prey championed.
Commenting on Mr. Prey's 1985 recording of Schubert's WINTERREISE with the pianist Philippe Bianconi, THE NEW YORK TIMES critic Bernard Holland wrote: ‘This is Schubert singing that does not twist sound for pictorial or dramatic effect but instead creates, with unusual musical clarity and purity of tone, a narrative voice which, though concerned and moved, tells the story first and lives it only indirectly’.
Mr. Prey was born on July 11, 1929, in Berlin, the son of a merchant. His mother encouraged her son's love of music. At 15, he passed the physical examination for the German army. But when his draft notice arrived during the last siege of Berlin in 1945, his father burned it. Speaking of it in an interview with THE TIMES in 1970, Mr. Prey said: ‘For three weeks we had been living in the basement of my grandfather's house, eating canned foods. We would listen in terror to the screeching of the bombs, the explosions day and night, the gunfire. . . I know that the fear I learned then is at the root of the icy emotions I project whenever I sing Schubert's WINTERREISE’.
After the war, Mr. Prey led a school band in concerts for English and American troops. To earn money, he sang and played piano and accordion. In 1948, he enrolled in the Hochschule fur Musik in Berlin to study with Gunter Baum.
In 1952, he won the third annual Meistersinger contest, sponsored by the United States Armed Forces assistance program for German youth activities. Some 2,800 singers between the ages of 18 and 25 entered, and Mr. Prey took first place, winning a stipend of $190 and a two-week concert tour of the United States. His American debut came in November of that year as a guest of the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Eugene Ormandy.
Returning to Germany, Mr. Prey joined the Hamburg Staatsoper, singing a wide range of repertory, including a number of contemporary operas by Rolf Liebermann, Gottfried von Einem, Luigi Dallapiccola, and Hans Werner Henze. Though he was not notably involved with new music in later years, he became a highly praised interpreter of the title role in Berg's WOZZECK.
Mr. Prey's 1960 Met debut, as Wolfram in Wagner's TANNHÄUSER, received mixed notices. But he triumphed in his subsequent Met roles, including the Count in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, and Eisenstein in DIE FLEDERMAUS. One of his favorites was Papageno in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE which he first sang at the Met in 1967. ‘Papageno is misinterpreted by many singers today’, Mr. Prey said in the 1970 TIMES interview. ‘He is actually 'ein Wesen,' a creature of God in nature, a living thing between animal and human, a folk philosopher, a kind of Peter Pan who flies, a wise member of Snow White's dwarfs’.
At 6 feet, with a perpetually unkempt shock of curly blond (later silver-gray) hair, Mr. Prey was a compelling figure on stage. He was also easygoing, articulate and telegenic: for some years he served as host of a television program in Munich, performing songs, discussing music and interviewing guests, which earned him a reputation as Europe's Leonard Bernstein.
Mr. Prey's longevity as a singer was due, in part, to solid technique and a willingness to turn down roles too heavy for his voice. ‘I become so sad when I see my colleagues whose voices have gone while they are still young’, he was quoted as saying in MUSICAL AMERICA in 1970. He added, ‘I want people to say, when I am 65 or 70, 'Oh look, here comes old Prey to do WINTERREISE’. Let's go hear him’.''
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 July, 1998
“Wolfgang Sawallisch, one of the last of the old-school German conductors, who led the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly a decade and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich for two decades before that, embodied the German type of the ‘Kapellmeister’ in the best sense: a man steeped in music, who knew every note of every score he conducted (often from memory), who was a supportive accompanist as well as an informed interpreter and who understood how to train, develop and lead an orchestra. Never flashy, even somewhat understated, he was, at his best, insightful and illuminating.
While Mr. Sawallisch was renowned throughout Europe, he might have remained little known to American audiences had the Philadelphia Orchestra not tapped him to take over as music director in 1993. When he arrived at age 70, he underwent a veritable renaissance, evidently enjoying a new freedom, both artistic and political — far from the political squabbling that had increasingly overshadowed his last years in Munich. ‘The last 10 years, with the Philadelphia Orchestra’, he said in 2006, ‘were really the top years of my symphonic life’. His time in Philadelphia was therefore a particularly happy ending to his career. Against some expectations, the reserved, intensely private German thrived in America, and the orchestra responded warmly to him.”
- Anne Midgette, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 Feb., 2013