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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Die Schöne Müllerin, D795
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Andras Schiff (piano)
rec. Schubertiade, Feldkirch, 1991.
Picture format NTSC 4:3
PCM Stereo
Region 0 (all regions)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Bonus: Fischer-Dieskau in conversation with Franz Zoglauer (1985)
ARTHAUS MUSIC 107269 [83:00]

Experience Classicsonline

I had the highest expectations of this DVD - two of my all-time favourite Schubert interpreters recorded together at the 1991 Schubertiade in one of the composer’s two masterpiece song cycles. The earlier release on TDK (TVCODSM) had earned encomia elsewhere and Fischer-Dieskau’s 3-CD recording of the three great song cycles, Die Schöne Müllerin, Die Winterreise and Schwanengesang, with Gerald Moore on DG (477 7956) is one of the great bargains of the catalogue.
In the event, if we had a Disappointment of the Month category, this would fit it. I can just understand why some reviewers have rated it highly - there are traces of the old, great, voice and interpretation there and it’s apparent that the two performers gelled in their enjoyment of working together. For me, however, the 66-year-old voice had simply become too wavery and lacking in dynamic range and all the facial- and body-language which Fischer-Dieskau employs not only cannot compensate but look rather pathetic. Whenever he sings war es also gemeint? - was it fated to be so? - I can’t help thinking how time and fate rob us all of our powers, even the greatest among us.
As Anne Ozorio writes in her review of that TDK release, it seems almost cruel to listen to this performance critically but that’s what you expect us to do. The audience react rapturously, but there’s surely an element of the Emperor’s New Clothes or a memory of better times in their response. Writing about another Arthaus DVD release of this recording with Die Winterreise, Kirk McElhearn thought that the merits of the earlier recording of Winterreise atoned for the shortcomings of Die Schöne Müllerin - review - but he seems to have been little more impressed by the latter than Anne Ozorio and myself.
I turned for reassurance of how well Fischer-Dieskau had once performed this work not to the DG set but to an EMI recording, again with Gerald Moore in 1961, still available as an EMI Great Recording - review - and recently reissued less expensively on EMI Masters 0852092, available to stream from Naxos Music Library if you wish to check it out. See Bargain of the Month review of an earlier EMI Masters release, with a different cover and number; it’s hard to keep up with the speed with which EMI have been reshuffling their catalogue recently. Ironically, the seeds of the destruction of the great voice are heard even at its height in the microscopically slight but attractive waveriness that made the singer so distinctive that one has only to listen to a few seconds of any of his recordings to recognise him.
I understand that Austrian Television (ÖRF) arranged to record the occasion only at the last moment; having intended only to film just a news item, they hastily drafted in an extra camera. The result, considering the circumstances, does justice to the occasion and it would be easy to disregard the shortcomings of 21-year-old technology if the performance had warranted it. As it is, though one can adjust the 4:3 picture to 16:9 without distortion on most televisions, it’s not possible to compensate for the grainy picture, with the occasional banding that used to be common on VCR and the disconcerting impression that the lighting was changing from minute to minute.
Stay with one of Fischer Dieskau’s recordings of this cycle from better times with Gerald Moore. Alto have recently reissued (the 1951?) recording, plus five Lieder, on ALC1207 and that 1951 version, without the fillers, is also available on Regis RRC1383 - review - both at budget price. Otherwise, the EMI Masters is available for around £8 and the 3-CD DG set costs around £16. It’s on special offer from one dealer at the moment for £10.56. Then there’s the Hyperion recording of the cycle on which Fischer Dieskau reads the prologue and epilogue (as he does on the EMI recording) while Ian Bostridge and Graham Johnson perform the music: CDA30020 or CDJ33025 around £8 or download in mp3 or lossless from Hyperion - see October 2010 Download Roundup.
Brian Wilson 

Masterwork Index: Die Schöne Müllerin

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