Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone, András Schiff, piano (Schubertiade
Feldkirche, 20 June 1991, plus 1985 interview with Fischer-Dieskau). TDK
DVUS-CODSM F (DDD) TT: 83:00
The legendary German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (b. 1925) made
three studio recordings of Franz Schubert’s song cycle, Die
Müllerin—two for EMI, and one for DGG, all with the great
accompanist, Gerald Moore. That final recording (DGG) took place in 1971.
For the next
20 years, Fischer-Dieskau neither performed nor recorded the piece.
In June of 1991, Fischer Dieskau and pianist András Schiff collaborated
on a performance of Die schöne Müllerin at the Schubertiade Feldkirch.
That performance was recorded by Austrian television. Thanks to the approval
of the artists, it has been issued by TDK in honor of Fischer-Dieskau’s
In many ways, I think it’s best to avoid comparisons of this 1991
recital with the three studio recordings. At the time of the Schubertiade
Feldkirche recital, Fischer-Dieskau was 66, and had been performing for
almost 45 years. It would be dishonest to suggest that his voice on this
occasion comes close to matching the freshness of those earlier renditions.
It also takes Fischer-Dieskau a bit of time to warm up, with some pitch
difficulties and breath control problems early on. For the most part
however, these flaws disappear over the course of the cycle.
Even with all these reservations, I found this Schöne Müllerin to
be an extraordinarily moving document. Despite the reduced vocal forces
at his disposal, Fischer-Dieskau gives an unforgettable performance.
I particularly recommend this DVD to people who view Fischer-Dieskau
overly intellectual singer, who often italicizes the text and music at
the expense of its overall flow. Here, Fischer-Dieskau relies on his
gorgeous diction, impeccable legato, and subtle inflection of the text
to the greatest
effect. Likewise, Fischer-Dieskau’s stage presence manages to find
the perfect balance of elegance, dignity, and dramatic involvement. The
singer’s facial expressions alone are worth the price of this DVD.
My impression of Fischer Dieskau’s interpretation was one
of nostalgic recollection, as opposed to a contemporaneous narrative.
In that context I found it most compelling, and a highly worthwhile
to Fischer-Dieskau’s body of recorded work.
The compelling nature of this performance is due in great part to the
contribution of Fischer-Dieskau’s accompanist, the superb pianist András
Schiff. As in any great lieder performance, the term “accompanist” is
inappropriate. Schiff plays exquisitely throughout, with a constant attention
to the shifting colors that reflect the cycle’s dramatic flow. It
is also clear that Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff view this cycle as almost
a duet for voice and piano. Time and again, Fischer-Dieskau and Schiff
match the timbres and inflections of their instruments to create almost
a single entity. This sense of partnership is reinforced by Fischer-Dieskau’s
frequent and often touching glances to his partner.
The straightforward camerawork by Austrian Television complements the
understated eloquence of this performance. The sound is excellent as
well. The DVD
also includes a 1985 interview with Fischer Dieskau by Franz Zoglauer,
illustrated by samples of Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings, performances,
and paintings. The DVD includes English, French, and Italian subtitles
for both the song cycle and the interview. Admirers of Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau will find this Schöne
Müllerin an inspiring and moving document. For those wishing to
hear Fischer-Dieskau in this glorious cycle for the first time, I would
seek out one of the studio recordings, all of which have considerable
merit. But in the final analysis, I would urge all admirers of lieder
singing to give this DVD a try.
K.M. (June 2005)