Schubert: Lieder

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WORKS: Lieder
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Jörg Demus (piano)
‘Great resonance… but a curious lack of rhythm’ was Yehudi Menuhin’s verdict on Fischer-Dieskau’s singing. No quarrels about the resonance. But what struck me even more than usual in this 1979 Salzburg Festival recital is the baritone’s mingled freedom and discipline of rhythm, his command of subtle, individual inflection within a firmly controlled larger pulse. His dreamy, spontaneous-sounding play with the rhythms in ‘Des Fischers Liebesglück’ creates a haunting, unreal atmosphere, making even Fischer-Dieskau’s studio recordings with Gerald Moore sound earthbound by comparison. And few performances of ‘Meeresstille’ can have been so free from the bar-line, or conveyed so potently both the sea’s eerie, glassy calm and the sailor’s underlying fear. On the downside, Fischer-Dieskau’s tone could by this time fray at climaxes; and in later years he found it increasingly hard to muster a measure of innocence or blitheness, which are an essential part of Schubert: songs like ‘An die Leier’ and ‘An Silvia’ sound at once too imposing and too neurotic here. But the sombre, visionary Mayrhofer settings that thread through this recital – ‘Memnon’, ‘Freiwilliges Versinken’, ‘Nachtstück’, ‘Auf der Donau’ – are all right up the baritone’s street, and receive performances of unsurpassed insight, colouristic flair and dramatic intensity. Jörg Demus, slightly backwardly recorded, is an observant partner, though without the inspirational individuality of, say, Richter or Hartmut Höll in their Salzburg collaborations with Fischer-Dieskau. Predictably, Orfeo’s documentation, stiffly translated, is long on eulogy, criminally short on texts and translations. Richard Wigmore