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Autumn Journey - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Part I: Documentary on the life and work filmed on the occasion of Fischer-Dieskau’s 70th birthday in 1995 [103:00]
Part II: Recital
Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
An Schwager Kronos, Hoffnung, Auf der Donau, Der Strom, Der Wanderer, Die Götter Griechenlands, Freiwilliges Versinken, Der Zwerg, Wehmut, Totengräbers Heimweh, Auf der Bruck, Des Sängers Habe, Am Fenster, Fischerweise, Das Zügen Glöcklein, Der Kreuzzug, Des Fischers Liebesglück, Die Sterne, Der Einsame, Aus ‘Heliopolis’ II, Geheimes, Im Abendrot, Abschied
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Hartmut Höll (piano)
rec. live, Opera Theatre, Nuremberg, 1992 (?)
WARNER MUSIC VISION 50-5144 22169-2-9 (KULTUR 4207) [188:00]

Watching this DVD made for a wholly absorbing evening.

On 31 December 1992 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau gave a concert. After that he announced that this had been his last and cancelled all further appearances. It was a great loss to the millions of music-lovers who had admired him for so long and glimpses from this concert reveal that at 67 his voice was still in sovereign shape. But Fischer-Dieskau felt that his instrument was no longer the obedient servant who had conveyed his intentions to his audiences according to his will; this was a fitting moment to say goodbye. After all he could look back on a career of fifty years; one which began in the middle of the war with a performance of Die schöne Müllerin that was interrupted by air-raid alarms. The audience had to seek shelter and after three hours they could return and hear the end of Schubert’s song-cycle.
This is one of many episodes from a long artistic life that Fischer-Dieskau recollects in the fascinating documentary that constitutes the first half of this DVD. The interviews took place as art of the singer’s 70th birthday celebrations. During the good one and a half hours the documentary lasts we are accorded the privilege of following him in his life journey. There are the early years where from the very beginning such was his fascination with sounds that he imitated everything. Then came the war, imprisonment in Italy, return to a Berlin in ruins and his early success as Posa in Don Carlo. There are glimpses of many of his operatic roles: Don Giovanni and Count Almaviva, Mandryka in Arabella, Falstaff – a role that obviously was close to his heart – up to the last great role, Lear in Aribert Reimann’s opera, created specifically for Fischer-Dieskau. In the course of the programme we encounter numerous great musicians who have played central roles on his way through life: instrumentalists Menuhin and Rostropovich; conductors Furtwängler – who became a kind of father figure – Fricsay, Karl Richter, Solti, Bernstein and Lorin Maazel in a beautifully filmed sequence, elegantly conducting Mahler -  superior music-making. There are of course singers too: Schwarzkopf, Seefried, Della Casa, Josef Greindl and pianists Gerald Moore, Sawallisch, Barenboim and Sviatoslav Richter. The whole life-story is related by the mastersinger himself, simply, warmly, personally, with humour and intellectual sharpness. We get to know his opinions on a lot of phenomena in the wide field of activities in which he has been involved and he certainly has deeper insights than most.
Two of the most fascinating portions are his work as a voice coach and as a conductor – both occupations coming rather late in life. Especially interesting is the sequence where he rehearses at the piano an aria from Un ballo di maschera with his wife Julia Varady in preparation for a recording. He knows exactly what he wants in the shape of nuance and expression. Being one of the greatest classical musicians – yes, he says early on that he is a musician in the first place, whose instrument happens to be the voice – he is disarmingly modest. This is a documentary that everyone with an interest in music should see.
As a substantial bonus we get a Schubert recital from Nuremberg with pianist Hartmut Höll. The copyright year is 1992, so I suppose it was recorded during that year – his last year as an active performer. The recital shows, in no uncertain terms, that his artistry was undiminished to the very end. He knows these songs to the core and every phrase, every inflexion, maybe every gesture and every visual expression is considered and calculated. Even so, there is never a sign of routine and mechanical repetition of something he is singing for the umpteenth time. The video production is straightforward with a limited number of camera angles but I prefer this matter-of-fact approach to fanciful zooming, picking details of the architecture or taking the viewer on a sightseeing tour of Vienna. The 23 stories that Fischer-Dieskau narrates are also illustrated in his facial expressions.
Watching this DVD made for a wholly absorbing evening and that there will be reason to return to it … and often. Fischer-Dieskau and the occasionally heard interviewers speak German but there are surtitles in English, Spanish, French and Italian, though not in German, even though the inlay says so. I would also have liked texts and translations for the songs in the Schubert recital, but don’t let this deter you from investing in this DVD.
Göran Forsling


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