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.
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.