Naxos have reissued a series of historic recordings which give
the opportunity to hear again performers and recordings through
whom many of us became familiar with the great classical works.
They are lightly re-mastered and offer the convenience of CD format.
This disc of the famous German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
singing lieder is from that series.
This selection is historic from a range of perspectives. The Schubert
songs are from early in the singer's lengthy and successful
partnership with the pianist Gerald Moore. The recording of
Mahler was made at a time when this was a bold step, his work
having been banned by the Nazis and being little-known at that
time outside the German-speaking world. This disc gives the
listener the feeling of a slice of musical history - as well
as some very fine singing - all for the usual bargain price.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born in Berlin in 1925 and learnt the
piano from the age of six. He seemed became interested in singing,
initially being determined to become a heroic tenor. However
once his voice broke it became instead a high baritone. His
first recital was given when only 15 and still at school (in
January 1942). This was followed by the opportunity to study
with Georg Walter - a renowned Lieder singer of his time. His
formal concert debut was delayed by call-up into the army and
military service in Italy. In 1947 he was a last-minute replacement
in a performance of Brahms German Requiem in Badenweiler. This
was followed later that year by a successful recital in Leipzig,
and then by the role of Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos at
the Stadtische Oper in Berlin - a venue where he was to appear
many times over the following 35 years.
His success in the opera house spread rapidly to include singing at
the Vienna State Opera, at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich
and then to London for an engagement with Beecham. It was here
that he met the pianist Gerald Moore, who accompanies him in
the Schubert songs on this disc. Theirs was an artistic partnership
which was to flourish over the following 25 years both on stage
and in the recording studio. His association with England also
involved collaboration with the composer Benjamin Britten, including
singing in the performance of the War Requiem for the
dedication of the newly restored Coventry Cathedral in 1962
and recording this work the following year. Britain also composed
his Songs and Proverbs of William Blake for the German
baritone, who gave its premiere at the 1965 Aldeburgh Festival.
Although he developed a range of German and Italian operatic roles
with considerable success and acclaim, it is for the singing
of lieder that he will be particularly remembered. He
had a very wide repertoire - virtually all of which was recorded
- including Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Haydn, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn,
Schubert, Schumann and Wolf as well as less well known and more
recent composers. It is from this repertoire that this disc
has been compiled.
The Songs of a Wayfarer were recorded as time unexpectedly remained
available after the recording of Fischer-Dieskau's first - and
highly successful - major operatic recording, Tristan und
Isolde (also available in this series, Naxos 8.110321-24).
This short cycle is an early work, a setting for large orchestra
and voice of poems by Mahler himself, written shortly after
the break-up of a love affair. There is a progression of contrasting
emotions as the work develops. Although there are other fine
and enjoyable recordings, for me Fischer-Dieskau's voice is
the quintessential one which I associate with this work, and
it was a pleasure to hear it again. The voice of the singer
as a relatively young man suits the work, written in the composer's
early years. His first appearance at the Salzburg Festival,
in 1951 - a year before this recording,
was to perform this work under this conductor.
Kindertotenlieder is for a smaller orchestra,
without brass but with double woodwind (horns being particularly
prominent), and sets verses by Ruckert on the theme of the deaths
of children. The composer recalls the loss of several of his
brothers in childhood. This recording is from the first batch
made after Rudolf Kempe was appointed to replace Furtwängler
as conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, in 1955. The singer
captures exquisitely the sense of loss and mourning. The quality
of orchestral playing is also excellent, and this adds up to
a really outstanding version - its sound simple, plaintive,
moving and expressive.
Schumann sets a series of twelve poems by Joseph Eichendorff as a cycle.
It starts with 'Far from Home' and ends with a brief
love song, Fruhlingsnacht, including on the way one of
Schumann's best known and loved songs Mondnacht ('Moonlight').
Fischer-Dieskau is accompanied by his long-time collaborator,
Gerald Moore, at the piano. The more intimate sound-world here
contrasts with Mahler's later treatment of similar thematic
material in his own poems which have large orchestral accompaniment.
This performance combines simplicity and clarity and is almost
perfect despite the age of the recording.
Naxos are to be congratulated on this welcome series and the welcome
opportunity provided to enjoy these performances again. However,
the sound, although lightly and sensitively re-mastered, is still
clearly that of a historic recording. Although I found some adjustment
of playback equipment to improve the listening experience, the
quality still does not compare with the other recording of Fischer-Dieskau
I also reviewed this month on Audite, which has been prepared
from master-tapes in the archives of German radio which are of
particularly high quality. This caveat notwithstanding, this disc
is historic, a bargain and enjoyable.