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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Lieder: An Schwager Kronos; Hoffnung, Auf der Donau; Der Strom; Der Wanderer; Der Götter Greichenlands; Freiwillges Versinken; Der Zwerg; Wehmut; Totengräbers Heimwehe; Auf der Bruck; Des Sängers Habe; Am Fenster; Fischerweise; Der Zügenglöcklein; Der Kreuzzug; Des Fischers Liebesglück; Die Sterne; Der Einsame; Im Abendrot; Abschied (from Schwanengesang)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Harmüt Holl (piano)
recorded Theatre-Oper, Nuremburg, May 1992 DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61431-2 [77'11"]

The human voice is sometimes called "an instrument", in cold and clinical terms. But because voice is human, it is more dependent on the individual than any other mere "instrument". It is affected by whatever affects its owner, and can be unpredictable. The fact that this recording was made in a live performance in May 1992, when Fischer-Dieskau turned sixty-seven, might perhaps indicate why this recording is primarily for completist collectors. Many singers can still sing exquisitely well past that age Schreier and Cuénod, for example, but it is not something to be taken for granted. Because this recording was being released, I had hoped that this performance might have shown Fischer-Dieskau in a better light. But it was not to be. He himself realised that retirement was due, for he ceased singing in December that same year.

Fischer-Dieskau recorded everything willy-nilly, but unfortunately this lends itself to material that sells on his name, not on its intrinsic quality. What musical purpose this recording serves, I don't know. The fact that this is a live recording may go some way to explaining. A live recital is an exhilarating experience, where technical perfection is not of paramount importance. The audience, adoring Fischer-Dieskau would have forgiven him anything. It would have been memorable. In the cold light of recording, however, flaws that would have been acceptable live, become glaring. This is not helped by the recording quality. However it was made, the balance entirely favours the piano to the extent that the voice sometimes sounds like it's in the background. Holl is a very fine pianist, and his performance here is excellent, but that's not all we want to hear in a Lieder recital.

There is enough of the "old" Fischer-Dieskau magic here to make a listener nostalgic. Remembering him in his glory went a long way in helping me appreciate this recording, but others might feel quite the opposite. When attempting lower registers, the voice shouts coarsely. Recalling warriors of old, as in Auf der Donau, this may be appropriate but all too often it isn't. Freiwillges Versinken is a song about surrender, so it is it necessary to bark out "Wohin, o Helios ? Wohin ?". A worrying wobble has crept into the voice, as at "Schöne Welt, wo bist du? " in Die Götter Greichenlands. Holding high notes also seems to be a strain, and passages that can be sung with softness become almost like speech. Fischer-Dieskau has sung all these songs so many times in his career that he should have their interpretation down pat and know which sections need emphasis more than others. Here, alas, the detail that made earlier performances so wonderful, is lost. The lovely, arching line in Wehmut, "mit all'der Schönheit, die er schaut, entschwindet und vergeht" is simply rendered shapeless. At moments there are glimpses of the past, such as when he manages the brisk pace in the first strophe of Auf der Bruck.. Altogether, though, there is a lack of focus and musical line.

As a memento of Fischer-Dieskau's last months before retirement, this is a useful recording, which will be valued as such. However, it gives a distorted image of Fischer-Dieskau's abilities, or of Schubert singing. Sadly, because this will be marketed for its "bargain price" it may be bought by those coming new to the singer and the music, and they will not be well served. Bargain in this case is false economy. They'd be better off saving for a classic recording of the singer in his prime.

Anne Ozorio

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