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
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
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
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.