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Schubert: Winterreise, Die schone Mullerin / Fischer-Dieskau, Brendel, Schiff

Schubert / Dietrich-fischer / Brendel / Schiff
Release Date: 04/27/2010 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101509  
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-DieskauAlfred BrendelAndrás Schiff
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise was written late in his life. It is regarded both as a highlight of the genre and as the touchstone by which lieder singers are judged. To succeed in interpreting Winterreise is the artistic equivalent of a patent of nobility for a singer. The song cycle certainly became one of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s calling cards and it is probably this work that made the baritone an international household name. In this recording made for the Sender Freies Berlin in January 1979, we see two of the leading musicians of their day in the prime of their lives and at the very peak of their art and experience appearing together in the service of
Read more Schubert’s Winterreise. Both the experienced Schubert lieder singer and the Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel, known throughout the world for his authoritative interpretations of Schubert’s piano music – had performed Winterreise together frequently between 1975 and 1989.

In 1991, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau finally agreed to perform Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin at the Feldkirch Schubertiade - he had not sung the song-cycle in public for twenty years. The great baritone belonged to the innermost circle of artists who give this unique, Austrian festival of chamber music its distinctive character. He had performed Schubert there on many occasions, but never Die Schöne Müllerin. The pianist András Schiff was another long-standing member of the inner circle, but this was the artists’ first collaboration in Feldkirch – and so Austrian Television (ORF) recorded the concert. The documentary importance of this fi lm was enhanced by Fischer-Dieskau’s retirement from public performance two years later.

Franz Schubert:

Winterreise, D. 911
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
Alfred Brendel, piano

Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone
András Schiff, piano

Recorded live at the Siemensvilla, Berlin, January 1979 (Winterreise) and at the Montforthaus, Feldkirch, 20 June 1991 (Die schöne Müllerin)

- Documentary: Winterreise: The Rehearsal
- Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in conversation with Franz Zoglauer, Schubertiade 1985.

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 135 mins (performance) + 77 mins (bonus)
No. of DVDs: 2 (1x DVD 5 + 1x DVD 9)

R E V I E W S:


SCHUBERT Die Schöne Müllerin. 1 Winterreise 2 & Dietrich Fischer- Dieskau (bar); 1 András Schiff (pn); 2 Alfred Brendel (pn) ARTHAUS MUSIK 101509 (2 DVDs: 135:00) Live: 1 Feldkirch 6/20/91, 2 Berlin 1/79

& Fischer-Dieskau in Conversation , 1985; Winterreise: The Rehearsal (77:00)

It was through Dietrich Fischer-Dieskaus’s performances that several generations of listeners, myself included, got to know Schubert’s song cycles, Winterreise in particular. In the bonus interview included here, Fischer-Dieskau does not deny that Schubert was his “most important composer,” and he kept us up to date on the evolution of his interpretations with multiple recordings of the same works—no fewer than 33 of Winterreise —snapshots from different moments of his career. The achievements of other great singers—Wunderlich and Schiøtz in Die Schöne Müllerin , Goerne and Hotter in Winterreise, Anders (in excerpts only) and Prey in Schwanengesang (on a recent DVD)—seem all the more admirable for not being Fischer-Dieskau, but it is always enlightening to return to one of his performances. These DVDs are self-recommending for the chance to view the 20th century’s leading interpreter of Schubert’s song cycles.

In 1991, the director of the Feldkirch Schubertiade, an elite festival at which Fischer-Dieskau and the great András Schiff regularly performed, persuaded the 66-year-old baritone to program Die Schöne Müllerin . He hadn’t sung it for decades but, with the incentive of collaborating with Schiff, he agreed. The filmed concert is released here for the first time. His voice is well preserved, the upper register is still lovely and there is no wobble or problem with pitch after a few shaky moments at the start of the first song. The discrepancy between the singer’s age and the youthful voice of the cycle’s protagonist adds poignancy as one watches the silver-haired master revisit the songs of his youth. Fischer-Dieskau, with less than maximum vocal power, gives a reading that is less about singing than the merging of language and song, and finding a wealth of possibilities of color and expression in the piano part. For instance, the song “Morgengruss” takes on a more intimate quality than usual that suits it beautifully, almost like speech-song. Schiff gives what may be the finest performance of the cycle’s piano part that I have ever heard. From the first song, “Das Wandern,” in which pianists so often sound clunky and square, he contributes energy and rhythmic life. The clarity, variety of articulation, and finely focused sound that his Bösendorfer allows gives the piano part its own eloquent voice at every moment.

Fischer-Dieskau’s 1979 Winterreisse , filmed in a studio, has been previously released. It’s a grim, authoritative performance, a journey that begins at a high intensity level with barely any relief along the way. (Unlike the “hero” of Die Schöne Müllerin , the Winterreise protagonist is doomed and despondent from the start). Some of Fischer-Dieskau’s louder singing verges on yelling. Alfred Brendel’s piano playing is masterly, orchestral. In the bonus film of the baritone and pianist rehearsing, their communication is mostly nonverbal; the two musicians collaborated on Winterreise between 1975 and 1989.

I have been listening to some of Fischer-Dieskau’s earliest recordings on a 10-CD collection on the Membran Music label. In his very beautiful, first recording of Winterreise from 1948 with pianist Klaus Billig, this most recognizeable of singers is not yet himself. It is very pure, refined singing, but so careful as to sound anonymous. Shortly afterward, his every note becomes invested with strong vocal character and for a few years in the early 1950s there is an extraordinary equilibrium between his personal insight into the words and his effortless vocal technique. This near perfection is reflected in a radiant 1951 recording of Die Schöne Müllerin with Gerald Moore. In this performance, when he reaches the song “Trockne blumen” and sings “Der Mai ist kommen, Der Winter ist aus,” I tend to agree with Sviatoslav Richter that Fischer-Dieskau was the greatest singer of the 20th century.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel

This boxed set of two discs, released as a “Special Edition” for the 85th birthday of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau combines two previously released DVDs. We reviewed the first, back in 2006 so I won’t go back and discuss the Winterreise disc, other than to say that I found it very good, and certainly worth getting for any fan of this great singer. So I’ll discuss here the second disc ( Die Schöne Müllerin), released about the same time, but that didn’t make it to MusicWeb International.

The first thing to note is that, unlike the Winterreise disc, Die Schöne Müllerin was recorded live, this time with András Schiff. While the Winterreise recording was made during what one might call Fischer-Dieskau’s “late prime” - in 1979 - Die Schöne Müllerin was recorded in 1991, near the end of his singing career.

While not in his prime, he is still the most emblematic singer of Schubert’s lieder, and any films of him performing this music are worth having. While he recorded hundreds of discs of music, there are relatively few films of his performances.

This concert took place in a small hall, apparently for TV, with what seem to be minimal resources. There appear to have been only two cameras, both situated on the left side of the hall, quite far away. The camera work is little more than the occasional zoom, slight pan, or cut from one to the other. This almost looks like an amateur production. The lighting is not excellent, and the sound of Schiff’s piano is muffled. Schiff, a Schubert specialist, is an excellent accompanist here, so this is a shame. Fischer-Dieskau’s voice comes through well enough, and the singer is his usual comfortable self, with magnetic stage presence, but it’s clear that his voice is not as flexible as it was in earlier years.

A 20-minute interview with Fischer-Dieskau, recorded in 1985, rounds out this DVD, where the singer discusses Schubert’s lieder. It’s brief and not very enlightening.

Faute de mieux, this disc is worth owning for fans of this great singer, and the recording of Winterreise in this set makes up for the weaknesses in Die Schöne Müllerin. Though you might want to just pick up the Winterreise recording, as each of these discs is available individually.

-- Kirk McElhearn, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Winterreise, D 911/Op. 89 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), Alfred Brendel (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1827; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1979 
Venue:  Siemensvilla, Berlin 
Die schöne Müllerin, D 795/Op. 25 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), András Schiff (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1823; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/20/1991 
Venue:  Montforthaus, Feldkirch 

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