Zum Liederabend am 14. Mai 1987 in London
Fischer-Dieskau / Elizabeth Hall
At the third and last of his "Festival of German Arts" recitals, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sang 19 of Wolf’s songs on poems by Eduard Mörike. A Fischer-Dieskau Wolf concert has always been one of the most elevated, concentrated demonstrations of the Liedersinger’s art. So it remainted last night.
Perhaps, indeed, even more so than in past London recitals, now that the voice has dried and lost some of its bloom while yet retaining a very wide working range and, no less important, an inimitable (though, sadly, far too often imitated) gift of micro-suggestion through tonal and verbal shading. Details of depiction are made more glancingly light and pointedly sure than ever, the control of means more apparently effortless (so that when, in "Peregrina I und II" high-lying lines caused moments of strain and even near-shouting, one could use them as a standard of measurement for the easy mastery of the rest). The partnership with Hartmut Höll at the piano had a marvellous quality of relaxated, instinctive communication – in comic songs such as the tiny, exquisitely painful "Bei einer Trauung" or the closing "Abschied", the impulses moving freely between voice and piano and climaxing in the piano postlude were mutually inspired, and single in their working.
Beyond the point where his vast quantity of artistic excellences can be generally agreed upon, reaction to this great singer has always been intensely personal, and not without controversy. Last night I surrendered more than ever before to the sweeping imaginative command of his insight into Wolf, while at the same time withdrawing – at a certain point in certain songs not always easy to pinpoint – when the feeling of being too smoothly and confidently manipulated began to make itself felt. A performance such as that of the hair-raising "Feuerreiter" is a case in point: how infinite the tones of terror immediate and gradually withdrawn into recollection; how finely a glazed light of unease came into both voice and eye as the skeleton complete with cap was recounted: but how stage-managed it all began to sound!
The most complete successes, the Fischer-Dieskau Lied distillations that will leave an indelible memory residue, were perhaps those in songs of apparently light humour. "Fussreise" was one such, tripped off over the dotted rhythmic patter with an exquisitely courtly and affectionate gracing of the text. The 5/4 wit and needlepoint imagery of "Jägerlied" produced another; and the mock-stormy "Begegnung" another still. And, whatever qualms or reservations one may have had on the way, the sensation that this singer still imparts –of a total and unstinting penetration into Wolf’s artistic vision – is unlike any other.