Various: Lieder 1850-1950

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
WORKS: Lieder 1850-1950
PERFORMER: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Aribert Reimann, Hermann Reutter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CMS 5 67349 2 ADD Reissue (1970-4)
These Fischer-Dieskau 70th-birthday tributes can’t hope to compete with DG’s monumental Edition (see June); but EMI could have tried a little harder in its new three-volume compilation from the Opera/Concert/Lied-Singer series already remastered in 1995 for the singer’s 65th birthday. A single booklet of track listings, with no song-texts and only vestigial commentary, accompanies new selections of what are not always Fischer-Dieskau’s ‘Greatest Moments’. There are, at least, Great Moments: the ardent presence of Fischer-Dieskau’s Lortzing with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1956; the balm of his young Wolfram, recorded in 1954. And every track on the Lieder album is available for the first time on CD. There’s a lot of Telemann, a little Wolf and Beethoven and, best of all, 14 Richard Strauss songs, recorded with that soft, youthful bloom still on the voice, in 1956 with Gerald Moore.

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And the shortfall is more than made good in EMI’s invaluable three-volume box of Lieder: a revelatory overview of German song between 1850 and 1950, all of it remastered and available on CD for the first time. Here is Fischer-Dieskau rehabilitating the forgotten followers of Schumann, the eccentrics of musical Jugendstil, the unjustly neglected disciples of Schoenberg. Every song is performed with such total commitment that each one seems a masterwork in its own right.

There’s the gentle ardour of Mendelssohn’s pupil Theodor Kirchner, and there are magisterial performances of seven of Grieg’s German-language settings. On to the ‘New German’ school: not only Liszt and Wagner, but a Berlioz Nuits d’été which works revealingly well in German, and three rapturous settings by Nietzsche, rediscovered as a composer by Fischer-Dieskau. On, through the successors of Hugo Wolf, to Fischer-Dieskau’s beloved Pfitzner and Schoeck; on to the austere beauty of Wolfgang Fortner’s Hölderlin settings, Webern’s Stefan George – and the radical ripostes of Eisler and Dessau.

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Finally, the latest BBC Legend is Fischer-Dieskau’s 1970 Festival Hall Mahler recital with Karl Engel: one of the greatest performances of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in recorded history, and four Rückert Lieder poised, incomparably, between the worlds of body and spirit. You’ll never want to hear them any other way.