So much has been written about these classic recordings since
they were first issued more than a half-century ago that there
is very little to add. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the great
sensation in the field of Lieder when he appeared shortly after
the war. He set new standards in detailed nuance, word-painting,
expressiveness and identification – all paired with a voice of
immense beauty and power. He went on for four decades, eagerly
expanding his repertoire which also encompassed opera and the
big choral masterpieces. He even took up conducting – while repeatedly
returning to certain works, including the present three, finding
new expressions, new insights. Like all great artists he had his
detractors, the main criticism being that he sometimes was too
explicit and over-emphatic and also, particularly in the field
of opera, that he took on repertoire that didn’t suit him.
I have for many
years had his remakes for DG of these three song cycles: Lieder
eines fahrenden Gesellen with Rafael Kubelik, Kindertotenlieder
with Karl Böhm, both in the 1960s, and Schumann’s Liederkreis
a decade later with Christoph Eschenbach at the piano. They
are marvellous readings from a mature artist still at the height
of his powers. Few singers have equalled them, let alone surpassed
them. Still it is a special treat to hear him in his early blossoming,
not yet thirty – well, Kindertotenlieder were actually
recorded three weeks after his thirtieth birthday. And he had
such a sappy voice and a superb lightness of touch, qualities
that he retained marvellously intact until late in his career
though inevitably one can detect a degree more effort in later
My intention when
I started working on this issue was to just sample it in order
to refresh my memory, but already in the first bars of Wenn
mein Schatz … I was hooked and ended up playing every second
of the disc – and then I started anew… There is such magic about
the whole Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, further enhanced
by Furtwängler’s conducting, that one gets the feeling that
F-D, there and then in Kingsway Hall discovered the songs and
was totally overwhelmed by their inherent beauty and emotion.
It is also extraordinary
to hear, especially in Kindertotenlieder, how his light
and tenoral voice transforms into a black bass-baritone, capable
of expressing all the grief and despair of these bleak songs.
Rudolf Kempe and the Berliner Philharmoniker give him all the
The recorded sound
has stood the test of time, which isn’t quite the case with
the Schumann cycle – or this was my first impression. I listened
through headphones and the first chords sounded dim and distant.
However, out of the mist emerged F-D with realistic clarity.
Apart from some distortion (tr. 12), the sound was good enough
to do justice to the music and the music-making, providing one
turns up the volume. Again it is the youthful freshness of the
singing that impresses and I believe that if these had been
his only surviving recordings, they would have been more than
enough to give him a front rank position in the annals of singing.
Such exquisite legato singing is something most other singers
could only dream of accomplishing. His collaboration with Gerald
Moore was always fruitful and this recording is no exception.
Readers who lack
these recordings should immediately rectify this want, now that
they are available at budget price. I also look forward to further
explorations of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s early catalogue.
There are riches aplenty.
see also Review
by Julie Williams