This is a biased review. I am an unconditional
fan of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a lover
of Schubertís lieder, and especially
of the song cycle Die Winterreise.
Recorded in 1979 - arguably not the
period when Fischer-Dieskau was in his
prime - this DVD presents a "studio"
recording of the work; that is, not
an actual performance in front of an
It begins with a shot
of Fischer-Dieskau standing next to
the piano, in the standard position
of solo singers, with Alfred Brendel
sitting in position waiting to begin.
At first, Fischer-Dieskau seems rigid,
uncomfortable, not at all as he was
when performing in front of an audience.
I only saw him perform live once - from
the eighth row centre, of the Salle
Pleyel in Paris, singing Schumann lieder,
in 1986, if my memory serves me correctly
- but there was a great difference in
his posture, his attitude, his body
language. The same is the case with
other live performances that I have
seen filmed: Fischer-Dieskau is generally
more mobile, more relaxed. Rarely looking
at the camera, his gaze remains generally
fixed at some point in the distance,
whereas when performing live, he would
make eye-contact with the audience,
adding to the intimacy of his performances.
is a consummate artist. While his physical
aspect may surprise, especially those
who have seen him perform live, this
in no way detracts from his performance.
I can think of few performers who have
mastered a composerís oeuvre as Fischer-Dieskau
has mastered the works of Schubert,
and it shows, just as one can hear it
in just about all of his recordings
of Schubertís lieder.
Since this is not a
live performance - there were obviously
many takes, most of a few songs at a
time, some of a single song - Fischer-Dieskau
never really has that comfortable attitude
that he had live. However, some of the
songs show him in perfect form: he sings
Der Lindenbaum, for example, with the
subtle, moving tone that one expects,
his range, tone and timbre are near
perfect. Auf dem Flusse is one of those
songs where emotion bubbles over, and
Fischer-Dieskau performs this brilliantly.
When singing Rast, Fischer-Dieskau starts
with laconic humility before advancing
through a full range of emotions, giving
a brilliant performance. And his expressions
and tone of bliss in the pastoral parts
of Frühlingstraum, contrasted with
the more turbulent sections of the song,
are perhaps the finest example of Fischer-Dieskauís
All throughout the
song cycle, Fischer-Dieskau shows an
expressivity and a broad palette of
emotion that set him apart from many
other lieder singers. As he approaches
the later songs in the cycle, including
some of the shorter ones, such as the
brief Der stürmische Morgen and
Täuschung, one can see how deeply
absorbed Fischer-Dieskau is in the work.
When the takes cover several songs,
as is the case with these short songs,
the profound expression of concentration
on Fischer-Dieskauís face is quite moving.
One might almost think that this man
managed to turn singing into a form
of meditation. When he sings Das Wirtshaus,
and sings the words Bin matt zum Niedersinken,
Bin tödlich schwer verletzt, one
cannot but think that he is indeed mortally
wounded. The haunting final song, Der
Leiermann (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man), which
sums up the work, marrying an ethereal
melody to a somewhat banal text, is
one of the most delicate to perform,
but Fischer-Dieskau brings his decades
of experience to play to make this an
unforgettable ending to the cycle. As
the camera fades on Fischer-Dieskauís
face, with the final piano notes drifting
away, one cannot ignore the perfection
that this artist has refined over decades
in singing this group of songs.
The performance of
this, his signature work, is one of
beauty, profundity, and intense emotion.
Unless one is really averse to his performances
of Schubert, it is hard to not be moved
by the intensity he brings to the cycle.
Alfred Brendel is also excellent, and
it is rare to hear such subtlety in
the accompaniment; the subtlety of his
touch in Die Krähe, for example,
shows his full understanding, but also
his understanding of his role, here,
as "mere" accompanist. The
two men make a near-perfect partnership.
(Note that Fischer-Dieskau and Brendel
also recorded a studio version of this
work in 1985, which is still available.)
Technically, the filming
is generally uninteresting, and the
lighting is dim; many of the close-ups
of Fischer-Dieskau are such that one
side of his face is in near-total darkness.
Also, not enough attention is paid to
Brendel; I would have preferred seeing
his part of the performance a bit more.
As for the sound, the recording is far
from perfect; at times, I could hear
some distortion when Fischer-Dieskau
reaches the highest volumes (this playing
the DVD through a stereo connected to
excellent speakers), and the piano often
sounds dull and poorly miked.
As for the "bonus"...
Iím not one for bonuses, making-ofs,
documentaries, and the like, though
occasionally, a classical music DVD
will contain something of interest.
I donít see the point of coupling a
film of Fischer-Dieskau and Brendel
rehearsing this work, when a rehearsal
is, generally, of a lesser quality than
an actual performance. Unfortunately,
this documentary is not subtitled, and,
since I donít speak German, I cannot
judge whether the conversations between
Fischer-Dieskau and Brendel are of any
interest; the performances, as always
in rehearsals, are not always complete,
and are not of the same level of intensity
as the main program.
this performance is not the best of
Fischer-Dieskauís many recordings of
this work, and perhaps not the best
filmed version (I recall that one was
filmed at some point in Paris, and broadcast
on the Mezzo television channel some
years ago ... Perhaps it, too, will
be released on DVD some day) no fan
of Fischer-Dieskau should pass this