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Schwanengesang/4 Lieder
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)/ Gerald Moore (piano)
Recorded 1951/52/55/58
EMI Great recordings of the Century CDM5 67558 2 0  [65.06]
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Keeping up with the BBC Joneses and their Legends series now seems to other companies to be the priority of the day. EMI have recently extended the plunder of their priceless vaults with a further ten discs among which is this splendid Schubert compilation originally made in four sessions over a seven-year span. The partnership of Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore, our premier accompanist of the latter half of the twentieth century needs little introduction. This represents the best artistry of both men. Their sensitivity to the words and the way Schubert sets them brings forth every nuance of phrasing, dynamic shading, pacing of tempo, and immaculate detail. This is a hard task to bring off, for Schwanengesang, unlike Winterreise or Die Schöne Müllerin is not a song cycle but a collection of songs. It dates from the last year of Schubert's life, 1828, hence the title Swansong invented by their publisher Tobias Haslinger when they appeared posthumously a year later. Of the twenty or so versions currently in the catalogue, and despite competition from the likes of Hotter, Souzay, Prey and Haefliger in the past, Fischer-Dieskau remains supreme, with the peak being his darkly operatic singing of Heine's Der Atlas. The group of four Heine settings were recorded during the singer's early period, in 1951 when the baritone was just 26. Indeed it is precisely the sheer variety of tone colour he produces over the fourteen songs which will hold the listener spellbound, the words so coloured with mood and emotion that a translation appears irrelevant. Coupled with this is the artistry of Moore, who, to quote two of the titles of his autobiographical books is both an unashamed accompanist and never too loud. Though Moore himself wrote of Fischer-Dieskau, 'he had only to sing one phrase before I knew I was in the presence of a master', the singer might well have written the same, with the substitution of the word 'play' for 'sing', of his accompanist. It is indeed a great recording of the last century.

Christopher Fifield

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