Zum Konzert am 20. August 1989 in Salzburg
The Guardian, London 31. August 1989
Arts: Master class
Another Salzburg festival triumph by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
IF ANYONE after Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's last London visit thought that the long career of this greatest of lieder singers was winding down, then his latest triumph at the Salzburg Festival firmly scotches any such idea. This performance with Alfred Brendel of the most taxing of song-cycles, Schubert's Die Winterreise, had even the most staid of Austrian music critics-who by tradition never respond at the end of any event-applauding eagerly, and there was every reason to do so.
Only last month in London Fischer-Dieskau was sounding disappointingly rough in Mozart concert arias. The honey in the voice had so drained away, that as with too many lesser baritones, pitching was often vague. Yet Salzburg and Schubert proved quite different. For years Fischer-Dieskau has resisted the idea of giving his lieder recitals in the Grosses Festspielhaus, the big festival hall, understandably preferring the small one next door with its more intimate atmosphere and more conventional oblong shape. For Winterreise with Brendel he was persuaded that it had to be the big house, and the wonder was that, whatever the extra problems he had to cope with, it suited him even better. Here is a personality more than commanding enough to embrace the wider-spaced audience in the big hall. It actually seemed a benefit to him that from a stage a hundred foot wide he faced the broadest of auditoriums. It forced him to act out the story of the love-sick poet on his winter journey with a graphic intensity that even he has rarely matched, using the widest range of tone, dynamic and expression.
In principle this was a magnified performance that ran counter to the idea of lieder as an intimate genre. In practice Fischer-Dieskau's vocal and facial acting had one so involved that he brought himself physically close throughout, and the advantage of a broad hall was that no one was too far away. Including opera, this was the finest acting I have seen in Salzburg this year. The singer was not just a narrator and commentator but an active participant, so that when he closed his eyes, as he often did, whether in anguish or ecstasy, that physical response was totally at one with the voice and its inspired accompaniment.
Fischer-Dieskau has already made more recordings of Winterreise than any singer in history. He has done one with Brendel, but this time the expressive balance was subtly different. With the singer so liberated, the great pianist, usually free in Schubert himself, provided the structural firmness, consistently supporting the spontaneously uninhibited expression of his partner. On record I dare say it might sound 'over-the-top', but thank goodness a live occasion like this could inspire a great artist to give so generously of a lifetime's experience.