The Fischer-Dieskau Edition
July 1, 2000
To honour the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on his 70th birthday, Deutsche Grammophon has released the 20-CD volume Fischer-Dieskau Edition (available individually, all $$$). To their credit, Deutsche Grammophon has put the consumer first, arranging the new releases to provide many recordings not currently (or ever) available on CD. The lead release is a 1968 recording of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin (DG 463 502/JJJ) with Viennese pianist Jorge Demus, never before released in any form. Demus and Fischer-Dieskau recorded a fine Winterreise in 1965, but this Müllerin remained unreleased for reasons Fischer-Dieskau says he "cannot recall." Truth be told, the reasons are fairly obvious. At times Fischer-Dieskau sounds below par, taking unusual risks, and simply blustering in certain songs. He recorded Die schöne Müllerin three times in studio with Gerald Moore (1951 shellac, 1961 LP - considered his best - and December 1971 as part of a project to record all Schubert lieder). The complete Gerald Moore cycle was decided in 1966 and Fischer-Dieskau probably already knew of the projected 1971 Die schöne Müllerin when he recorded this one in 1968, hence the irregularities. That's not to say it's a botch. As with any genius, even Fischer-Dieskau's minor essays and errors are instructive. Many songs of the cycle are fascinating and moving. It is well worth buying, especially since it will probably never be released again.
Other CDs in the Fischer-Dieskau Edition include one with lieder based on themes from Greek antiquity, always a popular subject in 19th century Germany. This was one of Fischer-Dieskau's best albums in the LP era and the transfer to CD is just as collectible. (DG 463504-2 /JJJ).
Less successful is a cute idea to record lieder by famous musicians or conductors (DG 463 515 2 /JJ). No one will question the inclusion of songs by Gustav Mahler, but the lieder by Emil von Reznicek, Wilhelm Kempff, Adolf Busch, Bruno Walter or Enrico Mainardi are largely derivative and forgettable.
Fischer-Dieskau's lesser known but important work in opera is commemorated by an arias disc (DG 463-519-2 /JJJ). The recording is "dated" by Fischer-Dieskau singing Handel's "Ombra mai fu" from Serse and "Non è si vago" from Giulio Cesare, works now usually sung by mezzo-sopranos or countertenors. Still, Fischer-Dieskau demonstrates his instinctive understanding of baroque style with fine performances, well ahead of his time. Dating from the days when Italian opera in Germany was sung in German, Fischer-Dieskau's Mozart is not bad. But his Italian diction is not perfect and his early Mozart on this disc (Don Giovanni, 1958) is not his best. Later (Nozze di Figaro, 1968), he is more robust and confident. Rounding out this disc, Fischer-Dieskau's Wagner is a treasure. His 1969 "Song to the Evening Star" from Tannhauser is superb. His Pizarro aria from Fidelio is a model of perfect German diction.
- Philip Anson