Mozart Lieder (Hermann Prey/Bernhard Klee: piano, Takashi Ochi: mandoline)
It seems unreasonably reticent to keep Mozart’s two best-known Lieder off the record. Without The Violet and Evening Feelings there was bound to be some lack of colour and emotion. But perhaps this was deliberate policy? It’s as hard for voices as for faces to stay smooth while registering an intense expression; and Hermann Prey is rightly renowned for his unbroken flow of vocal tone. Of course he can, at a pinch, apply dramatic pressure to his voice-production. But the results sometimes sound rather constricting; and he seems to me to be at his exemplary best in melodic lines that well flow and naturally from some lyric source. In this way he can cover a wide terrain of achievement from the lithe agility of his Harlequin in Ariadne auf Naxos to the quiet devotion of his Cornelius Christmas Songs.
On this analysis, Mozart Lieder (with the exceptions noted) make a sensible choice. No doubt their inner depths conceal a certain turbulence; indeed one can discern some quite fierce undercurrents of those social and sexual drives (in a phrase; the quest for liberties) that provide the main motive power of the great operas. Yet the keynote of the songs remains a modesty of resource and expression; and Prey's engaging blend of surface calm and deep involvement suits the genre to perfection. Even in the overtly dramatic cantata K619 he eschews rhetorical device à la Fischer-Dieskau. Sudden stresses are not Prey's forte; and when he essays them (as a the pointless underlining of the name “Damis” in K474) they sound as unconvincing as they are uncharacteristic.
Other cavils rid caveats concern questions of authenticity. Thus K433 is not a Lied but an aria; and is the piano reduction really by Mozart? Again, Bernhard Klee's decorated final postlude in K473 assort oddly with the plain speaking in the last lines of the voice part. But in general the keyboard accompanying (like Takashi Ochi's on the mandolin in K351) is fully as refined and sensitive as it was for Edith Mathis in her recent Mozart record. And Prey himself remains unsurpassed for genuine feeling much enhanced by sheer mellifluence, while the good sound quality adds a further gloss to the soft-grained smoothness of his polished performances.
As usual however the interpreters are not matched by the translator, among whose typical utterances is “cannot yet bemoan the measure that my heart doth bleed”. So doth mine, to see such ineptitude.
© gramophone, Oct. 1976 (p. 639)