“Du bist die Welt fur mich”
“Ein lied geht um die Welt”
CD Polydor

Well, guys, take a good seat and fasten seatbelts as some among you won’t like this. For forty years I have possessed and played these now legendary recordings. At the time the original LP was promoted by asking the radio stations to play Wunderlich’s version of ‘Granada’ (track 7 on the ‘Du bist die Welt’ CD) and most complied as there was still room for good music next to those horrors, the Beatles or the Stoning Rolls or whatever untalented environmental polluters came to dominate the air waves. Wunderlich’s ‘Granada’ of course is a magnificent piece of singing, but only half of it is due to Wunderlich’s voice. The other half goes to the engineers of Deutsche Gramophon’s popular label Polydor. They added the necessary brilliance to the sound, making Wunderlich sound like a German Franco Corelli instead of the good lyric tenor he was. If you doubt this is true, take a look at the well-known DVD of ‘Der Barbier von Sevilla’ where you get the real unamplified Fritz Wunderlich, singing ‘Ecco ridente in cielo’ (in German of course), interpolating an unmusical top C and getting almost no reaction from the public which only warms up when Erika Köth and Hermann Prey sing their respective arias. If you want another proof that Wunderlich was not a vocal miracle (and there are few vocal miracles) take track 8 where even all the help of the engineers is not enough to convince us that Wunderlich equals Mario Lanza (who, of course in those days, was a non-person and not mentioned in the sleeve notes). Wunderlich not only shirks the top C at the end of the song but he lacks the natural almost leisurely surety of a real miracle voice. His English is unidiomatic and he over enunciates the consonants in the well-known German way. One realizes this is a good voice which by sheer hard work has gone far and now has all the necessary qualities for a world career: incisiveness, legato, a good top though lacking those two qualities absolutely necessary in this repertoire: charm and warmth. Wunderlich was no Lanza and he was even less a Richard Tauber. His predecessor maybe had only half Wunderlich’s talent and still made twice an impression. This is immediately clear in track 1, the famous aria ‘Du bist die Welt für mich’ from Tauber’s operetta Der singende Traum ( the CD  is structured as a copy of the original LP and there you would vainly search for that information). Of course this comparison is not entirely fair as Tauber composed it for his own voice and thus could turn his weaknesses into strengths but even in track 2 ‘Ich küsse ihre Hand’ Wunderlich is the wonderfully ardent though uncharming lover. And in track 3 (‘Ay ay ay’ in a ridiculous German translation) you immediately notices that he doesn’t have the sweet pianissimo or the messa di voce of Miguel Fleta and Tito Schipa. I don’t think it to be a dishonour not being able to rival with Schipa but nowadays some fans pretend Wunderlich to be the greatest tenor of the post-war generation which he surely was not. Therefore he is at his best in some fine German songs where the competition is less (tracks 11 and 12).
Nevertheless one thing was clear at the time. Though he was no Corelli, Bergonzi or even Kraus, this record finally decided who was the most talented German tenor. Some people still prayed at the altar of (wooden) Rudolf Schock; others liked Josef Traxel and Heinz Hoppe more and a few even thought Ernst Kozub or Wolfgang Windgassen to be the most prominent tenor of the day but notwithstanding the criticism and reservations I formulate it is clear that no German tenor comes near Wunderlich.

The success of the first LP was immense and Polydor didn’t wait long before they issued a second one, recorded as the first one between the 1st of May and the 1st of August 1965. The songs Wunderlich chose were so intimately tied to other -and greater- tenors that the German singer set himself an impossible goal: still it is better to reach for the sky than to admit defeat immediately but honourable defeat it inevitably was. Wunderlich’s clear but still German way of singing (with some explosive consonants) and his lack of warmth and heft make him no contender for Enrico Caruso in Mattinata (of course written for the Neapolitan tenor) and though there is a lot of sun in Wunderlich’s voice, it cannot be compared with the blazing shine of Corelli’s ‘O sole mio’ recorded only a few years earlier. Wunderlich next tackles Beniamino Gigli and he does well in ‘Non ti scordar di me’ (sung in German as Gigli himself did in the German version of the movie) but of course the German tenor doesn’t have the sweetness to rival the beauty of sound of the Italian from Recanati. Then it’s time to take up Joseph Schmidt and this time he comes near in that older tenor’s movie song ‘Ein Lied geht um die Welt’ as brilliance and a gleaming top are the main requisites. But in ‘Tiri tomba’ or ‘Funiculi’ one immediately once again hears the difference between Schmidt (a great tenor singing in German) and Wunderlich (a great German tenor singing): the Jewish tenor has better coloratura and so much more morbidezza in the voice. The last three items on this second CD however have Wunderlich as a clear winner. These are all from Jan Kiepura’s movies and the elder tenor with the harsh voice and the too open sounds is no match for the younger singer who has far more elegance and legato than his predecessor. At the time the recordings appeared some people already complained of the bad (‘Tiri tomba’ is even more than bad) arrangements, the syrupy orchestration and the little chorus in the background.

Jan Neckers, Opera Nostalgia