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Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, November 2008

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 years.

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 support needed.

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.

Julie Williams
MusicWeb International, October 2008

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.  …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 Rückert 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. …This caveat notwithstanding, this disc is historic, a bargain and enjoyable.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2008

The early years were the most exciting in the long and distinguished career of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, an opinion born out by three exceptionally fine recordings made in the 1950s.

A native of Berlin, he was still in his early twenties when he made auspicious debuts in the concert hall and major opera houses, and was just twenty-seven when he come to London in 1952 to record the role of Kurwenal in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with Furtwangler conducting. The schedules having ended much earlier than expected, he was asked to record Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, a work he had already performed to much success with Furtwangler. It was a brave choice for at the time Mahler was largely unknown on disc. It proved a critical success, and plans were made to record, Kindertotenlieder, with Furtwangler conducing, though his death was to bring Rudolf Kempe into that role. The texture of Fischer-Dieskau’s voice at that time was light and had the freshness of youth. Later he showed greater control in florid passages, but these are wonderfully lithe performances coloured so as to perfectly reflect the mood of each song. Even among today’s many recordings I would be happy to live with these as my only versions. In the years that followed he was to map out much of his European career in the opera house, but internationally he was known as a lieder singer, and was never seen performing in the theatre in North America. His early partner was Gerald Moore, and here they are together in Schumann’s Liederkreis, their account avoiding that overbearing dark quality that often invades performances of the work, with the central songs, that speak of love and happiness conveying youthful gladness. Though recorded at various times and in differing venues, these excellent transfers have a unifying ambiance. Much commended.

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2:42:04 AM, 2 December 2015
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