Zum Liederabend am 15. August 1971 in London

The Times, London, 16. August 1971


Queen Elizabeth Hall

The South Bank Summer Song series ended last night with a recital by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He had brought with him a new pianist: Aribert Reimann whose opera Melusine we shall see at Edinburgh Festival, and a repertory such as he does not often sing here. He concentrated on the second Viennese school, adding a work by Fortner of which he and Mr. Reimann gave the premiere last year in Berlin.

The intention was surely to demonstrate that songs by Schoenberg and his disciples can provide as much gratification to the performers and to a not excessively prejudiced audience (it would stay away, in any case), as a programme of nineteenth century German song. Fischer-Dieskau led his audience gently, beginning with the early, still tonal songs of Schoenberg, rather wistful in tone, their harmonic manner questing restlessly round the periphery of post-Wagnerism. They were worth hearing for their own sakes, especially "Erwartung" (nothing to do with Schoenberg’s later monodrama) and the pessimistic military drinking-song, "Der verlorene Haufen", as well as for the light they shed on the composer’s later vocal style - for example the opus 48 songs of 1933 to which Fischer-Dieskau brought just as much sensibility of expression and beauty of vocal line.

Of Berg and Webern he gave us only the early songs which knock, so to speak, on the door of their composers’ mature personalities. Yet there is authentic character in Webern’s "Am Ufer" which was unpublished in the composer’s lifetime; and the opus two songs of Berg, especially the first and last, would not suffer in the most exalted company, so this singer persuaded us.

The novelty, Fortner’s Terzinen, which sets four eloquent poems in terza rima by Hofmannsthal, sustained interest for a time by its supple, vocal writing and thoughtful imagination. Then music’s range of feeling and variety of texture soon proves narrow for the weight of the verbal context. Fischer-Dieskau’s art, Mr. Reimann’s dedicated pianism, and the poems themselves did much for Fortner, but he kept them all on short commons. It was a comfort to reach the tenuous magic of Berg’s songs. The last one, "Warm die Lüfte", was sung with rare emotive power. Wisely the interpreters decided not to break the spell with encores.

William Mann


     The Financial Times, London, 16. August 1971     


Elizabeth Hall

Summer Song

London’s fortnight of South Bank Summer Song - a festival devised by the GLC in collaboration with Gerald Moore - ended last night with a recital of songs of the Second Viennese School by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: an ambitious ending to a welcome series. He began, naturally enough, with the father of that School, Arnold Schoenberg, and a selection of songs which effectively spanned two-thirds of that composer’s working life. Vocal ideas - ideas derived from vocal pattern and sense - are central to Schoenberg’s expressive idiom. It is easy to forget, perhaps, that nearly half of his total output of music in one way or another used the human voice: 31 out of 64 works, among which are to be found 46 songs for piano and voice alone (not exactly, as our programme-note reckoned, "few in number").

Fischer-Dieskau chose as the starting point for his Schoenbergian survey the first of the four op. 2 songs, dating from 1899: a text by Dehmel, verbal and musical colours clashing obliquely, chromatic red and green, muted by dusk. And then the marvellous "Die Aufgeregten" from op. 3, simple, touchingly ironic, not the last of the evening’s several strange but unmistakable affinities with Wolf. "Verlassen," the fourth of eight op. 6 songs, just predates the first Chamber Symphony: no hint in it, though, of the Symphony’s sweet, stark tension - an outspokenly lush and romantic song full of unexpected neo-Brahmsian cadences. The sharp, sombre "Der verlorene Haufen" the second of the two op. 12 ballads, is an ironic Legionnaire’s song which Fischer-Dieskau contrasted strongly with the later Stefan George "Ich darf nicht dankend," both superbly original settings in a traditional frame, tightly wrought, darkly and subtly coloured. He finished the set with two of the mature op. 48 songs, serial but powerfully lyrical pieces - above all, the haunting, perfect fragment, "Tod."

Webern followed Schoenberg: nine songs, all of them early, and the first four pre-opus, from the Moldenhauer collection. Webern wrote "Vorfrühling" when he was only 15, a remarkably accomplished little work, exquisitely symmetrical, a romantic foretaste of later refinement; while "Gefunden" is less characteristic, one of Webern’s
few full-bloodedly passionate, rhetorical statements, a young man’s outburst, a shade self-consciously soaring "to the stars." Of the rest, one of the most memorable was "Noch zwingt mich Treue" from op. 4 - itself a marvellous set, timeless, suspended in a kind of twilight: remembering, "Es ist worden spät."

In all these songs, Fischer-Dieskau gave us many striking and beautiful things. An early tendency to bark at climaxes soon settled: but even in the second Schoenberg song his control of timbre (a muted horn, ironically distant, on the word "Lebensläufchen") and phrase (the lovely "Welche Leidenschaft, welch wilder Schmerz") was very fine. After the interval, he sang Fortner’s quartet of songs Terzinen - the recital’s only contemporary work, written eight years ago - with excellent projection: the music itself is predominantly melancholy, inward-looking, and he gave it point and life, bringing it successfully (if not altogether convincingly) to its final, dryly defiant climax.

And to end, Berg’s Four Songs op. 2: the sensuous "Schlafen, schlafen," with its Schoenbergian coda for solo piano: the dream-like, dream-based "Nun ich der Riesen," full of soft bells and moonlit textures; and (once again, the strongly Wolfian) "Warm die Lüfte," a razor-edge of pining lost in forgetfulness. A word of praise for Fischer-Dieskau’s accompanist, Aribert Reimann, whose sensitive (if once or twice a degree overcareful) support gave much confidence.

Dominic Gill


     Zeitung unbekannt, 16. August 1971     



Inspired lieder glorious close to Song series


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau brought the South Bank Summer Song Festival to a glorious close at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night with a recital featuring lieder by the Second Viennese School.

There are few artists who could have filled the hall with such a programme, but this Mr. Fischer-Dieskau did, and committed singing by one of the greatest singers alive in what for most people is still modern music (nearly all the songs were written before 1910) was of inestimable promotional value.

The evening began with a summary of Schoenberg’s song output, starting with the late romantic sentiment and style of his sets Op. 1, 2 and 5, steering through his free atonal period with the outstanding "Der verlorene Haufen" and "Ich darf nicht dankend," and ending with 12-note songs from Op. 48.

This was a veritable feast of music, from the wild number about legionnaires before battle to the tautness and moral austerity of the late songs.


Mr. Fischer-Dieskau brought all his arts as a lieder singer to bear, impeccable in detailed articulation, passionate in rounding out the broader expressiveness.

Early songs by Webern were just as beautifully treated, with an almost speaking poetry in some songs which was helped sometimes by a near-Sprechstimme delivery.

The evening ended as wonderfully as it had begun with Berg’s marvellously romantic Four Songs, Op. 2, one phrase only suggesting strain. Here as elsewhere the piano parts were outstandingly shaped by Aribert Reimann.

A. E. P.


     Zeitung unbekannt, 16. August 1971     


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

A serious and splendid end to this year’s Summer Song Festival at QEH last night, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in songs by Schoenberg, Webern, Fortner and Berg; a programme of concentrated musical interest, short in actual time (one and a half hours including interval) but long in terms of listening experience.

All groups except the Fortner were mostly made up of early works. Extraordinary how Webern and Berg at once declare their characters in their earlier works. The Webern songs, so brief, so understated, so low in dynamic level, in which one feels that every dispensable note has been pruned away. The tiny epilogue of the very early "Am Ufer" echoing the last voice phrase, and only changing a semi-tone interval to a tone, how telling that is; by comparison the elaborate epilogues of all but one of the early Schoenberg songs seemed to say so much more than needs be said. For Webern, Fischer-Dieskau with his unshakable steadiness, his control over all aspects over the sounds he makes, and his great range of tone-colour - even in pianissimo - is the perfect interpreter.

The danger of over-reverence, treating each note as if it was a precious jewel to be picked up, so to speak, with fine forceps - is never there. You feel that he and his accompanist Aribert Reimann approach Webern with respect and understanding, but without being overawed. Fischer-Dieskau’s performance is as easy and uncramped as his platform manner, which fills one with confience from the moment he settles himself with his back against the piano at the starting of a group.

The Fortner songs and settings of Hofmannsthal, also economical in texture and with some finely expressive writing for the voice, were difficult to get hold of at first hearing. The idiom is highly personal, music, like texts complex and elusive - more complex still in that it superimposes its own asymetrical patterns on the neat terza rima of the poems; and the programme, in spite of a recent price increase, stingily gives us no English translation or paraphrase opposite its misprinted German text. One could hear that these songs were worth listening to, but couldn’t make out more than a fraction of the message.

In the Berg songs, Fischer-Dieskau held the audience spellbound. Once again all seemed so simple and the music more beautiful than ever. One marvelled again at the infinite reserves of emotional and physical strength which he commands, so that even at the biggest climaxes (and they were tremendous) one got the impression that he was nowhere near the limit of his resources. A three litre car cruising at 55 miles per hour.

Hugo Cole

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