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19.5.12

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925–2012)

available at Amazon
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, The Great EMI Recordings

(11 CDs, $55)

available at Amazon
Schubert, Lieder, D. Fischer-Dieskau, G. Moore

(21 CDs, $60)

available at Amazon
Brahms, Deutsche Volkslieder, D. Fischer-Dieskau, E. Schwarzkopf, G. Moore

(2 CDs, $11)

available at Amazon
Schumann, Dichterliebe / Liederkreis (op. 39), D. Fischer-Dieskau, A. Brendel
It has been a bad week for fans of vocal music. In the inevitable trend of threes, the deaths of go-go pioneer Chuck Brown and disco star Donna Summer have been followed by the worst of all. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a giant among lesser men, died yesterday, a few days short of his 87th birthday. He has not been performing or recording for some years, of course, but it is still distressing to think of a world without him. For me and undoubtedly for many listeners my age and older, Fischer-Dieskau opened up an entire world to my ears. As an undergraduate piano major, I was lucky enough to receive an accompanying scholarship, for which I did a lot of work playing for voice students. Wanting to know more about accompanying opera and art song, I took music courses in those repertories, from which my interest in musicology was born. Prof. Ethel Armeling taught surveys in French, German, Italian, and English song, and in each of them she introduced us to the best recordings of vast swaths of composition. It was an invaluable introduction not only to a huge body of music but to the best singers, and in a startling number of cases it was Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who came to represent the ideal for how those pieces should be sung. It was not an overwhelmingly powerful voice, and his interpretation could border on fussiness, but in his greatest recordings there was an intelligence, a loving attention to the details of text and characterization, that is hard to resist.

Regular readers likely already own well-worn copies of the discs recommended here, but for those who do not, there are some excellent options to get to know this superlative singer. EMI has a fine box set of his best Lieder recordings made for their label, including the three Schubert cycles, the Brahms Die schöne Magelone, Schumann's two Liederkreis sets, Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, and selections of songs by Schubert, Wolf, Strauss, Loewe, and others, plus a disc of interviews with Fischer-Dieskau about the art of singing German Lieder. There is some overlap, but nothing to be regretted, in Deutsche Grammophon's 21-disc Schubert set, with Fischer-Dieskau and his accompanist Gerald Moore, who is one of the gold standards for any art song accompanist. Now available at bargain prices, these sets will give you endless hours of appreciation for what made Fischer-Dieskau so beloved among listeners.

Some of the important song recordings not found in those sets include the delightful Brahms German folk songs with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (EMI, regrettably left out of the EMI set) and the biting Dichterliebe he recorded with Alfred Brendel (doubling the op. 39 Liederkreis, also great, for Philips). Representing his contribution to Mahler's orchestral songs is the Bernstein recording of Das Lied von der Erde (Decca, re-released). Fischer-Dieskau also made many standard-setting studio recordings of 19th- and 20th-century opera: making this list are Strauss's Elektra and Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu, with Karl Böhm (DG), Wagner's Parsifal with Georg Solti (Decca), and Hindemith's Mathis der Maler with Rafael Kubelik (EMI). Alex Ross has written recently about Benjamin Britten's respect for Fischer-Dieskau, to whom he entrusted the baritone role in his epic War Requiem, one of the high points of 20th-century composition. Readers are invited to add their own picks from Fischer-Dieskau's discography in the comments section. As he was in life, Fischer-Dieskau will be indispensable to audiophiles for generations to come. We express our condolences to his wife, soprano Júlia Várady, and his three sons.

Other tributes: Alex Ross, Anthony Tommasini, Anastasia Tsioulcas, Ian Bostridge, Leo Carey, Jessica Duchen


available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, J. King, D. Fischer-Dieskau, Vienna Philharmonic, L. Bernstein
available at Amazon
Britten, War Requiem, D. Fischer-Dieskau, G. Vishnevskaya, P. Pears, London Philharmonic, B. Britten
available at Amazon
Berg, Wozzeck / Lulu, D. Fischer-Dieskau, E. Lear, Deutsche Oper Berlin, K. Böhm
available at Amazon
Wagner, Parsifal, D. Fischer-Dieskau, G. Frick, C. Ludwig, Vienna Philharmonic, G. Solti
available at Amazon
Strauss, Elektra, D. Fischer-Dieskau, Staatkapelle Dresden, K. Böhm
available at Amazon
Hindemith, Mathis der Maler, D. Fischer-Dieskau, J. King, Bavarian RSO, R. Kubelik

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Mörike Lieder of Hugo Wolf in the 1957 recording with Gerald Moore. Emi Studio Catalog #: 63563.

This recording sometimes makes me think that Wolf is an even greater composer of songs than Schubert. Fischer-Dieskau's voice was at its peak and the variety, beauty and originality of the poems bring out the best in both composer and interpreter.

Charles T. Downey said...

Absolutely: the EMI set at the top of this list stints on the Wolf songs. I think this is the one you mean. There is a Wolf box set, too, that has all of the EMI recordings, oddly packaged with a disc of the orchestral works.

Anonymous said...

Many of his Bach recordings, especially from the late 50s and early 60s (Johannes Passion with Karl Forster, Matthaeus-Passion for Klemperer and Karl Richter, cantatas with Karl Ristenpart and this is just the begining...)

Charles T. Downey said...

A friend who avoids the Internet said that we should not leave the disc of Othmar Schoeck Lieder off this list. This friend, who is also a bass-baritone, recounted a story about meeting Fischer-Dieskau after a performance. When he found out that my friend admired his recordings, he asked which one. When the response was Othmar Schoeck, Fischer-Dieskau's eyes lit up and there followed a long conversation about Schoeck's Lieder.

Anonymous said...

DFD introduced me to the mysteries of German lieder and there's been no looking back. What a consummate artist. Without sounding too melodramatic, one song randomly selected from the complete Schubert box - "Fruhlingsglaube" at the end of disc 12 - really helped me through a very tough period in my life ("now cease thy torment, my poor heart, for all things must be changed"). That song encapsulated all that is great about Schubert, Moore, and DFD. I hadn't known of his passing until just seeing this. Thanks to Charles, and a tip of the hat to my old acquaintance JFL.