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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 39a (1840) [26’35]. Romanzen und Balladen I, Op. 45 (1840) [9’02] – No. 1, Der Schatzgräberb; No. 2, Frühlingsfahrtb; No. 3, Abends am Strandc. Liederkreis, Op. 24c (1840) [20’23]. Myrthen, Op. 25 (1840) - No. 24, Du bist wie eine Blumec [1’49]. Romanzen und Balladen, Op. 64c (1841-47) - No. 3.Trägodie, I & II [3’16]. Romanzen und Balladen, Op. 53c – No. 3, Der arme Peter, I-III (1840) [4’39]. Mein Wagen rollet langsam, Op. 142 No. 4c [2’51]. Romanzen und Balladen II, Op. 49 (1840) - No. 1, Die beiden Grenadiered [3’55]; No. 2, Die feindlichen Brüderc [2’07]. Balsatzar, Op. 57c (1840) [4’41].
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); abGerald Moore, cHertha Klust (pianos).
[mono/stereo] Rec. Studio No. 3, Abbey Road, London on aMarch 10th, 1954, dOctober 10th, 1951, Gemeindehaus, Berlin-Zehlendorf, on bMarch 26th-27th, 1964 and cSeptember 16th, 1956. ADD
EMI CLASSICS Great Recordings of the Century 5 62755-2 [79’28]

There remains no doubt, surely, that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau at the height of his powers was one of the greatest and most influential of all twentieth-century Classical musicians. At one point, critical reception in some circles seemed such that he could do no wrong. Yet time can put a different slant to matters and so the reappearance of some of the greatest of Schumann’s Lieder in a recital that lasts one hour twenty minutes (minus a second or so) and dwells mostly on songs from Schumann’s miraculous year of 1840 is particularly welcome.

Gerald Moore’s accompanying always inspires joy in its preternatural sensitivity, not only to the singer’s minuscule manipulations of accent, tempo, etc, but in his grasp of what is required to set up the atmosphere of any particular Lied. So it is with the first of Schumann’s Op. 39, ‘In der Frende’, Moore’s warm sound setting up a bed of sound over which Fischer-Dieskau spins his line. Almost immediately Fischer-Dieskau’s shading of text comes into play, at the third line, ‘Aber Vater und Mutter sind lange tot’.

Fischer-Dieskau’s legato is one of his defining strengths and it is even more in evidence in the second Lied, ‘Intermezzo’, which emerges like a musical held-breath. The voice is softened here, not only in reflection of this text, but also to contrast with the stern hardening of tone for the first stanza of the third Lied, ‘Waldgespräch’ (interestingly translated as ‘Colloquy in the forest’), a lied here almost promoted to the ranks of vocal tone-poem. Fischer-Dieskau realises the massive variety of mood in this work, raising a smile at the words ‘’Ich wünscht’, ich wär’ ein Vöglein’ and deploying one of his favourite effects, that of floating the line, sparingly and carefully. Singer and pianist make No. 7, ‘Auf einer Burg’ sound well ahead of its time in its still disquiet. In stark contrast, the following ‘In der Fremde’ is taken at a tempo that perfectly evokes forest murmurs. Only in No. 10, ‘Zwielicht’ does melodrama encroach (the stage whisper of ‘Was will dieses Grau’n bedeuten?’).

Always Fischer-Dieskau’s attention to diction is in evidence, nowhere more so than in the lieder that require somewhat rapid enunciation. Olaf Bär at the Wigmore last year brought a different slant – there were moments when Bär’s enjoyment of the pure sound of the words was in evidence, whereas Fischer-Dieskau seems ever preoccupied with meaning. An interesting point of comparison.

It is a tribute to the stature of this interpretation that the final song emerges as the satisfying climax that Schumann intended.

Schumann’s Op. 24 Liederkreis is perhaps not as intense a work as Op. 39. It breathes a serenity that Fischer-Dieskau (accompanied here by Hertha Klust) is anxious to project throughout (excepting an almost violent, certainly very dramatic ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’). Klust accompanies well, if not with the authority of Moore. The highlight is the Winterreiseisch third Lied, ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’. The next Lied, ‘Du bist wie eine Blume’ from Myrthen, acts as a beautiful ‘encore’.

Throughout Fischer-Dieskau is unafraid of using whatever effects he can for wrenching meaning from the text. So, in the third stanza of ‘Der Schatzgräber’, Op. 45 No. 1, he veers dangerously close to Schoenbergian Sprechgesang in his portrayal of menace, all of which contrasts magnificently with the folk-like ‘Frühlingsfahrt’ (Moore is always superb at these happy-go-lucky folksy accompaniments). A pity Klust’s ornaments are not perfectly clear at the close of ‘Entflieh’ mit mir’ (from Op. 64), but the successful projection of bleak desolation of the ensuing ‘Es fiel ein Reif’ goes a long way to making up for it.

The Lieder from Op. 53 flow together as a well-contrasted group, the more advanced harmonic workings of ‘Mein Wagen rollet langsam’ contrasting well (here Fischer-Dieskau, the story-teller is very much in evidence).

‘Die beiden Grenadiere’ is surely one of Schumann’s most famous songs, and F-D relishes every note. Moore is once more the pianist for this and the partnership seems here at its greatest. Everything seems right, far more than in its companion piece, ‘Die feindlichen Brüder’, where the singer comes close to shouting.

The choice of Balsatzar as the concluding lied is a strange one. Klust’s pedal-free playing just sounds arid and, despite beginning with a liquid legato, Fischer-Dieskau goes into his ‘heightened speech’ (and if one listens to the recital straight through, this effect is beginning to lose its appeal by now). It is a strange, inconclusive way to end a disc that contains much to admire.

This GROC acts as a timely reminder of Fischer-Dieskau’s art, warts and all.

Colin Clarke

EMI Great Recordings of the Century


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