Zum Liederabend am 10. November 1968 in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Bulletin, 11. November 1968

At the Academy

Time and again we are told that the song-recital is a thing of the past, that a liederabend belongs to things that once existed. You wouldn’t have thought so, yesterday afternoon, when Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the most famous lieder specialist of his day, was given a series of ovations by a packed Academy of Music - ovations of Tebaldian and Corellian proportions.

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, with Norman Shetler at the piano, presented Franz Schubert’s great song-cycle "Die Schöne Müllerin." He kept the afternoon homogeneous by sticking to Schubert even with his encores in response to vociferous cries for more.

The famous baritone hadn’t appeared in Philadelphia for twelve years. He was last here on Nov. 1, 1956 in a joint-recital with soprano Irmgard Seefried of 43 songs by Hugo Wolf. He has been absent ever since and ours has been the loss.

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Fischer-Dieskau presented the great Schubert cycle with an authority that made the event unquestionably definitive. What can one say about this wonderful artist? The perfect placement of his voice, his knowledge of its limitations (which are never obvious to his listeners), his rhythmic buoyancy, his poetic sense of word, his exquisite phrasing … but why go on?

"Die Schöne Müllerin" is a cycle of 20 songs, the perfect flowering of 19th-century German romanticism. It is a long cycle, making demands on the singer and on those who are listening. Yesterday, there was no tedium in listening to Fischer-Dieskau’s consummate awareness of both Dr. Müller’s sometimes naïve lyrics and Schubert’s wonderful music. I don’t know what kind of lubrication Fischer-Dieskau employs up and down his scale but you can sit’ back and know that everything is going to come off just as he has planned it.

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It would be impossible to go into detail of all 20 songs. It will suffice to say that they were permeated by the simplicity of the performance, the occasional dramatic impetus which now and again asserted itself, and the magical qualitiy of the baritone’s articulation in rapid passages such as those bound in "Der Jäger".

The pianist for "Die Schöne Müllerin" is far more than an accompanist and Fischer-Dieskau made this obvious in his courtesy towards Norman Shetler during moments of applause. Mr. Shetler, who used to live in Philadelphia, is a sensitive artist. His ideas of Schubert were very close to Fischer-Dieskau’s. A good example of the searching teamwork between singer and pianist came in "Die liebe Farbe".

The baritone added three encores, the first, a song I am not familiar with, followed by "Wer ist Silvia? and "Im Abendrot." To the back wall of the Academy, where I had stopped for the encores, came Fischer-Dieskau’s whispered pianissimo as though it were the seat next to you.

Max de Schauensee

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