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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: The Mastersinger
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Excerpts from Die Zauberflöte (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm, 1964), Cosí fan Tutte (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Eugen Jochum, 1963), Le nozze di Figaro (Orchestra of the German Opera/Karl Böhm, 1968) and Don Giovanni (Prague National Theatre Orchestra/Karl Böhm, 1967)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Excerpts from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Orchestra of the German Opera /Eugen Jochum, 1976) and Das Rheingold (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan, 1968)
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Excerpts from Serse (Munich Chamber Orchestra/Hans Stadlmair, 1978) and Giulio Cesare (Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter, 1970)
Christoph von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Excerpt from Orfeo et Euridice (Munich Bach Orchestra/Karl Richter, 1968)
Carl ORFF (1895-1982)
Excerpts from Carmina Burana (Orchestra of the German Opera/Eugen Jochum, 1968)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Excerpts from La traviata (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ferenc Fricsay, 1961), Macbeth (London Philharmonic Orchestra/Lamberto Gardelli, 1971), Rigoletto (Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Rafael Kubelik, 1964) and Don Carlo (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Georg Solti, 1976)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Excerpt from Tosca (Orchestra of the Saint Cecilia Academy, Rome/Lorin Maazel, 1967)
Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Excerpt from The Creation (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan, 1969)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Excerpts from Die Frau ohne Schatten (Bavarian State Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth, 1964), Arabella (Bavarian State Orchestra/Joseph Keilberth, 1964) Elektra (Dresden State Opera Orchestra/Karl Böhm, 1961) and Salome (Hamburg State Opera Orchestra/Karl Böhm, 1971)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Lieder: Im Frühling D882 (Sviatoslav Richter, piano 1978); Der Musensohn D764 (Jörg Demus, piano 1960) Ständchen D957/4, An Silvia D891, Die Forelle D550, Erlkönig D328 and Heidenröslein D257 (all Gerald Moore, piano 1969-1972)
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ruckert Lieder: Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm, 1964)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone) with accompaniments as given above
rec. locations not given, dates as above
Gramophone Awards Collection series
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DG 476 7111 [78:58 + 75:27]


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These two discs contain thirty-six items and more than two and half hours of recordings Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made for DG between 1961 and 1978. They celebrate a Gramophone award for “Lifetime achievement” from 1993, which was shortly after he retired from singing after a career spanning over 40 years. Fischer-Dieskau’s reputation as a lieder singer is so high – he had a repertoire of more than 3000 songs – that it is easy to forget his extensive list of operatic roles. Quite a few of them are represented here, the principal focus being on opera.

Most of the sets from which these excerpts are derived seem still to be available but few would probably be a top choice nowadays. In quite a few cases though, Fischer-Dieskau might feature on a “dream cast” short list. In particular, it was good to be reminded of his Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger which is well-represented by a deeply thoughtful rendition of the philosophical Wahn (Madness) monologue and by the famous quintet. In the entry of the gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold Fischer-Dieskau’s Wotan sounds magnificently noble, leaving one wondering why he didn’t continue in the rest of the role in Karajan’s Ring cycle (perhaps logistic rather than artistic reasons?) and feeling that, if he had, it might have given Solti’s cycle a closer run for its money.

Sorry, but I haven’t begun at the beginning – disc one opens with the excerpts from Böhm’s Die Zauberflöte in which Fischer-Dieskau played a characterful Papageno. The version from which I first got to know the work, it was good to be reminded of one of its strengths. The three most obvious excerpts from the role are included – Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja, Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen and Pa Pa Pa Papagena! – the latter opposite Lisa Otto. Papageno was perhaps not an obvious role for Fischer-Dieskau but his versatility was immense and here he applied just the right amount of humour.

The Wagner excerpts follow this and then, although “joins” are generally well managed, a transfer to the world of Handel comes as a bit of a shock if one listens straight through. No prizes for guessing that Ombra mai fù features here although Va’tacito e nacosto from Giulio Cesare makes a more distinctive impression. In Che faro from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice for once Fischer-Dieskau seems miscast, and this sounds slow and heavy. After this there is a single brief excerpt from Cosí fan Tutte Soave sia il vento with Nan Merriman’s Dorabella (a role she also recorded with Karajan some year earlier) and Irmgard Seefried’s Fiordiligi. This is a tantalising taster of Fischer-Dieskau’s Don Alfonso from a recording that seems to have been squeezed out by the EMI Böhm version made at around the same time.

On to Carmina Burana and Jochum’s well-respected recording from which we get a wondrous sounding Omnia Sol temperat followed by Estuans interius, a riotous tour de force. Pity the recorded sound is just a bit rough in places. In general, elsewhere the recorded sound is largely what one would expect from this source and era (i.e. pretty decent) although the final track on disc 2 (the Mahler song) is a bit fuzzy.

Next up are two excerpts from Le nozze di Figaro, in which Fischer-Dieskau took the role of Count Almaviva. In addition to a very fine Vedrò mentr’io sospiro during which Fischer-Dieskau’s variety of expressive powers are all in evidence, the finale of Act IV is included.

Nearing the end of the first disc now and the focus shifts from Mozart’s Italianate operas to some real Italian stuff – Verdi and, surprisingly (at least to me) Puccini. First and most striking is Germont père’s Di Provenza il mar from La traviata. This is not listed in Alan Blyth’s authoritative 1979 compendium of Opera on Record and, therefore, I would presume it does not derive from a complete set. Perhaps this is a good thing given Fischer-Dieskau’s heart-rending reading, he might well have upstaged the lovers completely. Interesting, the compendium does list some La traviata excerpts with Fischer-Dieskau recorded in German under Bartoletti at about the same time. I hadn’t previously come across Fischer-Dieskau in Verdi before and on the evidence of this and the other excerpts given here, I have been missing something. In both Macbeth and Rigoletto he took the title roles, in Don Carlo he sang Rodrigo opposite Carlo Bergonzi’s Don – both give their all in the death scene. All these snippets are likely to make one want to explore the complete recordings. There is also some admirably realistic venom in the Te Deum from Tosca. I found it hard to imagine Fischer-Dieskau as Scarpia until I heard this snapshot.

Quite a big leap is needed to move to the Adam and Eve Duet from Haydn’s The Creation, sung opposite Gundula Janowitz. If Karajan’s approach is a bit too smooth, both soloists are on form and this is one of several tracks demonstrating Fischer-Dieskau’s ability to combine most sensitively with other voices.

In Mozart’s Don Giovanni Fischer-Dieskau took the title role in a recording made in Prague (where the work was first performed) under Böhm. This is perhaps the most controversial of the Mozart roles represented here and Fischer-Dieskau doesn’t quite convince in the Champagne aria.

The final opera offerings are four single excerpts from operas by Richard Strauss. As in Wagner, Fischer-Dieskau seems completely at home in this composer. None of these recordings is in the mainstream of current choices and Die Frau ohne Schatten and Arabella seem to have been recorded live (I would suspect that Im Frühling is the only other live recording on the discs). The latter in particular is treasurable – a rapt rendition of Und wirst mein Gebieter sein with Lisa Della Casa. On the assumption that it was part of a whole, I shall be looking out for this recording.

If a set such as this were to have any pretensions to cover the scope of this artist, it would have to include some Schubert lieder. This it does with a well-chosen selection of favourites, mostly taken from the magnificent “complete” set made with Gerald Moore (this is complete in the sense that it includes all the Schubert songs suitable for his voice). Anyone interested in either Schubert lieder or this artist will need to have (or probably already have) more than these few tasty morsels, most of which Fischer-Dieskau recorded more than once. Tastiest of all perhaps is Ständchen from Schwanengesang where one can only marvel at his (and Gerald Moore’s) artistry. Finally comes Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, Mahler’s most other worldly creation, of which Fischer-Dieskau was one of the supreme interpreters. Even if I slightly prefer his later, daringly slow take with piano accompaniment by Daniel Barenboim, this is still a marvellous conclusion.

Retailing at slightly less than one full-price disc, this set is a most fitting tribute to a master singer and a stunningly versatile artist.

Patrick C Waller



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