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“Hermann Prey: The Schubert Song Cycles” is a
two-DVD set released during 2009 under the Unitel label,
in conjunction with C Major Studio. In many respects,
this disc is an abject lesson in lieder performance.
These three Franz Schubert cycles, “Die schöne Müllerin,”
“Schwanengesang” and “Winterreise” were
recorded during the mid 1980’s, and performed in
a “salon” setting arranged for the tapings, which
ideally suited the music. Prey (1929-1998) was
partnered with pianist Leonard Hokanson (1931-2003)
for the “Die schöne Müllerin,” and “Schwanengesang”
cycles, and joined by Helmut Deutsch (1945 – ) for
“Winterreise.” The bonus features include German
introductions to each cycle by Prey, and his German
narration of a 40-minute documentary biography of
his life, including historic footage. English, Spanish
and French subtitles are also available.

It’s inevitable that Prey is compared with his older
contemporary, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
(1925-2012), and these analyses are appropriate,
considering that both singers were formidable on
the opera stage and in the recital hall. Both men
also performed works like Schubert’s “Winterreise,”
throughout their lengthy careers.

Based upon these performances by Prey, I’d say that
his instrument is richer and more “resonant,” and his
performances appear to be less “studied” than those
I’ve observed from Fischer-Dieskau. Prey’s
interpretations possess a flowing quality which is
natural, but not lacking textural nuance. In other words,
these performances represent the best of all
possible worlds! The imaginative use of lighting also
enhances these recitals and the playing from both
Hokanson and Deutsch also seems ideal, especially
when you consider that the pianists are equal
partners in these songs, not mere “accompanists.”

This 252-minute, two-DVD set is well worth my
highest recommendation.