Zum Liederabend am 13. November 1968 in New York

New York Times, 14. November 1968

Fischer-Dieskau in Brahms-Cycle

Baritone Presents Rarely Heard Group at Carnegie

Brahms’s "Magelone" song cycle is a problematic work, and this apparently accounts for the fact that it is seldom performed. Last night it was given one of its rare presentations here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in Carnegie Hall. The baritone and his pianist, Norman Shetler, gave it a consummate performance, as was to be expected, but it left this listener with the feeling that its many beautiful individual sections do not add up to a satisfactory whole.

The cycle is a setting of 15 romances by the German poet Ludwig Tieck for "Die schöne Magelone," based on a 14th-century French story of one Count Peter. This knight journeys from Provence to Naples, where he falls in love with the Princess Magelone. After further adventures the tale ends happily for the pair.

Songs Consume an Evening

The romances are not narrative; they are expressions of moods, feelings, moral thoughts. Set to music they make rather lengthy songs, so that the cycle takes up the entire program. And an evening of Brahms songs, even the best of them, will not sustain interest the way an evening of Schubert, Wolf or even Mahler will.

There are, to repeat, many superb passages in the cycle and a few songs that are thoroughly engrossing. One of the latter is "Ruhe, Süssliebchen," a kind of lulllaby, except that it is sung to the princess, which maintains its quiet mood over an extended period without going soft at any point. Like all songs in the cycle, it is perfectly organized in musical terms, but here the combinations of tenderly molded melodies and rhythmically gentle piano accompaniment never loses its hypnotic appeal.

In another song, "Liebe kam aus fernen Landen," there is a fascinating musical figure, almost Oriental in shape, which gives the individual piece a special character. But there are other passages where the melodic and harmonic ideas are rather prosaic and begin to grow monotonous.

The cycle is not easy to perform for either singer or pianist. This would not have been guessed, however, from the reading by Mr. Fischer-Dieskau and Mr. Shetler. They were faithful to the moods of the songs, but by sensitive and judicious tempo adjustments were able to keep the music continually in motion and to bind a lengthy song into a tight unit. This was no ordinary feat, and whatever magic the Brahms cycle was able to exert was there in their performance.

Raymond Ericson

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