Schubert: Lieder; Vol. 1: Lieder (1811-17); Vol. 2: Lieder (1817-28); Vol. 3: Die schöne Müllerin; Winterreise; Schwanengesang

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COMPOSERS: Schubert
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Lieder; Vol. 1: Lieder (1811-17); Vol. 2: Lieder (1817-28); Vol. 3: Die schöne Müllerin; Winterreise; Schwanengesang
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bar) Gerald Moore (pno)
CATALOGUE NO: 437 214-2 ADD
Over 500 of Schubert’s songs, recorded between 1966 and 1972 by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore, are reissued here on CD.

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It is a well-packaged, value-for-money set (the three volumes are also available individually), with each volume in a sturdy box and the individual CDs in slip-covers, to minimise bulk. There are no details of contents on these plain, numbered slip-covers but the booklets are well laid out with translations of all the songs. An alphabetical listing of this massive collection would have been very useful.

Vol. 1 begins with some of the earliest songs and has over 100 settings from Schubert’s most prolific year, 1815. Fischer-Dieskau’s technical mastery of effortless long phrases and his expressive delivery of dynamic details ensure that many of the most basic strophic songs yield delightful moments. ‘Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren’ is taken at pitch in A flat, which lies quite high for Fischer-Dieskau; some other songs are transposed, but never more than a third. Just when one feels nearly overwhelmed by the rather morbid Matthisson and Mayrhofer settings, along come some gems like Schlegel’s ‘Der Schmetterling’ or Hölty’s ‘Seligkeit’ – ‘Bliss’ in translation and in execution.

Although the order of the songs in Vol. 2 is basically chronological, there are small deviations which provide coherence and contrast and give many of these nine CDs the feel of a recital programme. The vocal risks taken by Fischer-Dieskau to achieve intensity and depth of characterisation afford immense insights, thus minimising any reservations. The contrast and drama of ‘Prometheus’, the insistent ardour of ‘An Sylvia’, then his disarmingly simple delivery of the Seidl ‘Wiegenlied’ – this is a feast of versatility and artistry. The partnership of these two great Lieder exponents – Gerald Moore’s contribution as a musically onomatopoeic piano partner (one brief example, the chiming of the bell in ‘Das Zügenglöcklein’) cannot be considered mere accompaniment – continues through to profoundly moving performances of the song-cycles in Vol. 3. These recordings are refreshingly unreverberant, and both performers are in good perspective.

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Each of the Vol. 3 song-cycles is already available separately and now there is even a new Fischer-Dieskau Winterreise available on Sony Classical. This is his seventh commercial recording of the work, made in 1990 accompanied by Murray Perahia. At 65, Fischer-Dieskau’s voice no longer maintains its unique seamless sheen but, though he cannot consistently guarantee the quality of his baritone sound, through his extraordinary mental and physical techniques he gives a gripping performance of mature reflection, aided by Perahia’s positive, interactive playing. This is surely Fischer-Dieskau’s last word on the cycle. (see page 26)Elisse McDougall