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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (1883-85) [18:17]; Kindertotenlieder (1904) [24:31]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Liederkreis, Op. 39 (1840) [26:31]
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler (Gesellen); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Rudolf Kempe (Kindertotenlieder); Gerald Moore (piano)
rec. 24-25 June 1952, Kingsway Hall, London (Gesellen); 20-21 June 1955, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin (Kindertotenlieder); 10 March 1954, EMI Abbey Road Studio 3, London. ADD
NAXOS 8.111300 [69:19] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


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.

Julie Williams

 


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