Zum Liederabend am 2. April 1990 in London

     The Independent, London, 5. April 1990     

Courting danger: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

By Meredith Oakes


Everyone must have known on Monday night that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau would get a standing ovation; except perhaps the artist himself. Tall, grand, nervous and immaculate in a stiffly elegant suit, he launched into the defiant / despairing ''Der Atlas'', the first in his Schubert-Heine Schwanengesang group, with a show of frenzy that was coldly deliberate yet frail and vulnerable, an outcry shaken about the rising sculptural tread of the piano's bass line.

Fischer-Dieskau's razor-sharp formal control, manifest throughout this recital, seemed like an acknowledgement of danger; with each song he put himself on the perfectionist rack. He no longer has the charming velvet shadow that used to be part of his voice. Everything is harder, brighter, drier, more risky: a more ordinary vocal instrument being asked to meet more extraordinary musical demands. The voice was protected with musical buffers whose application was a miracle of tact and skill. Pressure was judiciously applied, then lifted before any cracks or strains could even begin to appear. Falsetto and half-falsetto smoothed away some possible rough edges; yet these devices were always used with perfect dramatic point and truth.

The fine accompanist, Hartmut Holl, seemed to have found solutions to all the problems that can beset the projection of a baritone voice through the rather too similar sound of the piano. Every difficult conjunction was solved in its own terms, but generally the powerful and supportive bass line was not cut back, whereas the right hand was very subtly nuanced, falling to a whisper that revealed every letter of the vocal text, yet quickly regaining the initiative needed for contrast and structural substantiation.

With the Schwanengesang group followed by Schumann's Dichterliebe (also with texts by Heine), this was the most monumental of Fischer-Dieskau's three Lieder programmes at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this week, and the one requiring at once the greatest simplicity and the most varied dramatic resources. The theme of the Dichterliebe cycle is young love. A singer of 65 can live it despairingly afresh or stand back from it with an element of sad affection. Fischer-Dieskau chose the latter course, though he did not shrink from exposing raw nerves, vocally and psychologically, in crucial outbursts like the one at the end of ''Ich hab' im Traum geweinet''. The floating, detached, lost hush that enveloped the preceding verses bringing the dream into the hall, was masterly.

Here, as in songs like Schubert's ''Ihr Bild'', the duo's sovereign freedom in rubato was used to make time stand still. Against such peaks of intensity could be set the simple relaxation of the singer in pieces like Schumann's ''Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen'', where the vocal text was treated virtually as a formal preface to the flowering piano episode that followed.

Throughout, Fischer-Dieskau was supremely sophisticated in his choices: choices about when to underplay and when to strike, about the (mostly continuous) stringing together of songs in the Dichterliebe cycle, about quietness versus urgency, about the reasoned exploitation of vocal resources. He sang with a clarity that was compelling, sometimes chilling. One of the best finds of all was the almost careless anger in Schumann's ''Ein Jungling liebt ein Madchen''. 

There were six encores, all from the same ''classic'' Lieder repertoire; then the artists picked up their flowers from the top of the piano with a certain precision. Standing ovation. Of course.



     The Guardian, London, 5. April 1990     

Arts: Fischer- Dieskau - QEH


LIKE a well-weathered rock, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau launched into the first of his three South Bank Lieder recitals with 'Ich ungluckselger Atlas!' (I unhappy Atlas), roughly assertive, almost crude in tone and on the edge of self-destruct. Hartmut Holl's accompaniment rattled the rafters with a suitably elemental response. Thunder struck. Schubert's old man ranted against the storm unbowed.

The great German Lieder-singer, 65, 'im wunderschonen Mai', is not thinking of his pension. The programme announces three planned dates for him in May 1991. The extraordinary sense of intonation, the confident variety of colour, timbre and angle of approach to a phrase remain as revelatory as ever: he has aged to match, now, the slightly dry, hard clarity that stopped his instrument being as beautiful as some.

Schumann's Dichterliebe is run as a continuous stream of consciousness, rather than spaced out as miniatures: a youthful tragedy of love recalled in autumnal vocal colours. Fischer-Dieskau's sense of pace and control chime well with Schumann's romantic tangents. The accompanist Holl takes over the melodic stream as required with exactly judged response to the singer. I loved the rolling organ resonances of the coda to Im Rhein. The inner light of the singer, eyes shut, for 'Hor'ich das Liedchen klingen' (When I hear the little song sound), the spirituality of the bright summer morning, and the devastation of 'Ich hab im Traum geweinet' (Dreaming, I wept) were the peaks of the recital. The singer was so gripped by the continuity that he began 'Nightly in my dreams I see you' before the pianist had turned the page an unsettling effect, charmingly fallible. There were six more or less rare encores. Miraculous artistry.

Tom Sutcliffe

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