The songs of Franz Schubert were central to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau all through his long career. He returned to many of the songs on several occasions.
He first recorded Die schöne Müllerin
in 1952 also with Gerald Moore. Then came the 1971 version, Moore again at the piano but this time for Deutsche Grammophon. In the end this became the most comprehensive Schubert song project by any singer. Today these recordings are available on 21 well-filled CDs in a box. This is an indispensable collection for lovers of Schubert. For me that version of Die schöne Müllerin
has been the favourite for 40 years. Whether it is superior to the present version is a moot point. The 1962 one finds F-D at the absolute peak of his powers with the voice in perfect shape. He had lived with these songs for so many years and honed his readings through innumerable performances. One can, without exaggeration, state that here is an ideal equilibrium between experience, diligent study and still undiminished inspiration. The freshness, both vocally and in attitude, is wholly compelling. In 1971 he had further rethought his readings, not in overall shape but in details and there is still not a trace of routine. A slight tendency to over-emphasis can be detected, something F-D from time to time has been criticized for, but nothing to worry about. We have to be grateful for having both versions available. However many recordings of Die schöne Müllerin
are issued, F-D’s will always be in the top layer.
Highlights? All twenty songs, but lend your ears to some of the later ones, where he surpasses himself. Der Jäger
(tr. 14): the intensity, the rhythmic élan, the colouring of the voice. It’s a short song, one minute only, but so much happens within those few seconds. Die liebe Farbe
(tr. 16) at the other end of the scale, introspective with impeccable legato. In both songs he sings off
the words. The text is always in focus for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Again, close listening to all the songs leaves the same impression of total identification – and the sheer beauty of the voice.
The value of this issue is further enhanced by the inclusion of five Goethe settings, recorded the previous year for DG with another of F-D’s favourite accompanists, Jörg Demus. The centre-piece is without doubt Prometheus
, where both Schubert’s and Fischer-Dieskau’s dramatic accomplishment is fully exposed. It’s a pity there are no texts, but many readers will no doubt have other recordings with texts and translations and those who haven’t can find what they need here: http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/assemble_texts.html?SongCycleId=48
Let me just add that the transfers are excellent and with almost 78 minutes playing time you get a lot of music for your money. No one will regret buying this disc.