Tenor and singer of Schubert lieder

Born: July 29, 1935;

Died: December 25, 2019.

PETER Schreier, who has died aged 84, was an East German tenor blessed with an exceptionally fine and graceful voice that brought an extra dimension to his singing of Schubert lieder. He captured the very essence of the words and music in such demanding song cycles as Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise with a consummate skill and artistry.

A Schreier recital was always a memorable occasion. This was evidenced when, on his second visit to the Edinburgh Festival in 1995, he gave three solo recitals on successive evenings to a packed Usher Hall of Schubert songs. It was vocally a challenging undertaking and Schreier brought to the evenings a mastery of style and timbre which were acclaimed as one the highlights of the Festival. The Herald critic commented on “the absolute stillness of atmosphere at the end of the recital”.

Peter Schreier was born in Saxony where his father was kantor at the local church. In June 1945 he joined the Dresden Boys' Choir where he often sang solos in Bach’s church music. The choristers lived in a basement as the city had been severely bombed by the Allies. In 1956 he joined the Dresden Music Academy and then moved to the Dresden Opera where he sang minor roles from 1961 in 1966. He was then offered a post at the Berlin State Opera in East Germany.

His career progressed in the next decade with principal roles in important German houses; he made his UK debut when Hamburg Opera visited London in 1966 in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. Schreier harboured his voice carefully and seldom sang the heavier Wagnerian roles. However, at the invitation of Herbert von Karajan he sang Loge in Das Rheingold at the Salzburg Easter Festival.

In the opera house the operas of Mozart remained central to his repertoire – he was acknowledged as the outstanding Tamino in The Magic Flute and the Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte. He was also heard as the Count in The Barber of Seville and The Witch in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel. He appeared at the Salzburg Festival for 25 consecutive seasons.

His first visit to the Edinburgh Festival was in 1981 when he joined a star-studded list of soloists (Margaret Price, Jessye Norman and Hermann Prey) in an acclaimed account of Bach’s St Matthew Passion under Claudio Abbado.

Later Schreier often appeared in the concert hall and on disc with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He formed a special understanding with the orchestra when he conducted them on foreign tours. These included a tour of Germany and Austria in 1991 when his conducting of an all-Mozart programme was praised. In 1995 he led the SCO in a concert in Copenhagen when the programme included Mozart and Bach.

He also conducted them at a memorable concert of Haydn’s Creation at the church of Jesuits in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1992 which is still available on DVD.

His recordings of Schubert and Schumann songs have won international prizes throughout his career. He recorded with the pianists Geoffrey Parsons and in later years with András Schiff but Schreier’s grace of voice and his ability to make each word and phrase have an extra significance ensured his lieder discs are amongst the most highly regarded. He recorded Winteresse several times – one of the most memorable being of a live performance in 1985 with Sviatoslav Richter.

Scherier also conducted the SCO in a disc of Bach Cantatas where he drew excellent singing from the tenor Olaf Bar accompanied by the playing of the SCO’s late and gifted cellist Kevin McCrae. Gramaphone magazine wrote, “Kevin McCrae’s cello playing sympathetically complements the voice superbly.”

All his recordings were under the most acclaimed conductors – his Mozart discs were mostly under Karl Böhm although he recorded an outstanding Tamino with Colin Davis. Bach remained central to his career both in the studio and in the concert hall. Schreier’s singing of the Evangelist in the St Matthew Passion is a glorious feature of all the recordings under Karl Richter, Abbado and Karajan. His recordings displayed his consummate musical intelligence and were notable for Scherier’s strong characterisation and careful articulation of the words.

Scherier was a traditionalist and was never keen to appear in opera productions that had a heavy political or social concept imposed by a director. The Marriage of Figaro at The Metropolitan set in Trump Towers he considered, “vulgar”. The film Amadeus he felt was “distorted”. “People who get to know Mozart via Amadeus will not really understand what he’s all about. They will not understand his Requiem or Don Giovanni, or his symphonies.”

Peter Scherier is survived by his wife, Renate and their two sons.

Alasdair Steven