How could one not recommend a recording of some of the 20th century's great Mahlerians working together on some of Mahler's greatest songs? Delight once again in the sense of discovery and of sheer vocal freedom that Fischer-Dieskau brought to this music.
There are compelling reasons for acquiring this collection of recordings made in Vienna and New York in 1968. First, there is the intensely characterful singing of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and of Christa Ludwig, one of the great Mahler interpreters. Then there is the double fascination of hearing the songs with piano accompaniment played by Leonard Bernstein, who at that time was very much into enacting the role of Mahler's self-appointed representative on earth... NewRead more to the UK is the recording of Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, graphically and movingly sung by Fischer-Dieskau somewhere near the height of his powers. The cycle also shows Bernstein at his restrained and perceptive best.
-- Gramophone [3/1992]
These songs were recorded in November 1968, at the peak of Fischer-Dieskau's career. His magical ability to create a wide-ranging sound world captures and conveys Mahler's own vivid musical imagination with maximum impact. Fischer-Dieskau's creative use of intonation—of bending the pitch for expressive purposes, of easing into and out of a pitch for dramatic effect—is one of the traits that set him apart from other singers. His ability to vary the speed and degree of his vibrato, again for expressive purposes, is another. Few singers matched words to music with the unity that he did. At times, particularly later in his career as his vocal resources diminished and as he tried to find new ways to sing the same songs, these assets could turn into expressive exaggeration and fussi-ness. But that doesn't seem to me the case in these recordings. His singing is magical, natural in its flow and complete in its communication.
One could raise legitimate questions about Bernstein's pianism. The depth of his knowledge and understanding of Mahler cannot be disputed, of course. He knows how this music goes, and he plays with incisiveness, clarity of expression, wit, and depth of feeling. But it is evident that he wasn't a natural pianist, or one who kept in practice. Some of the playing is a bit awkward or heavy-handed (for example, he misses the lightness of touch required by "Urn schlimme Kinder artig zu machen," one of many songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn included).
Still, this is a highly recommendable disc. How could one not recommend a recording of two of the 20th century's great Mahlerians working together on some of Mahler's greatest songs? But it must also be noted that most of this repertoire may be more satisfying to most listeners in its orchestral garb, for which there are a number of fine recordings. Fischer-Dieskau recorded the Knaben Wunderhorn songs with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and George Szell in the same year, and he made two fine orchestral recordings of the Wayfarer songs, one at the beginning of his career with Furtwangler, and one in 1989 with Barenboim. There is a wonderful orchestral version of the Rückert Lieder with Mehta and the VPO recorded live at Salzburg and issued on Orfeo, and the baritone also recorded virtually all of this repertoire for EMI with Barenboim at the piano around 1980. So there is plenty of duplication—and competition. It is hard to rank performances when they are all on a fairly exalted level. I would say that the naturalness of Fischer-Dieskau's singing here, and freshness of his vocal condition, should make this disc attractive to many. I know that I shall return to it for pleasure on numerous occasions, delighting once again in the sense of discovery and of sheer vocal freedom that the baritone brought to the music at this stage of his career.
-- Henry Fogel, FANFARE [reviewing the Rückert Lieder, Sony 6187] Read less
Works on This Recording
Des Knaben Wunderhornby Gustav Mahler Performer:
Walter Berry (Bass Baritone),
Leonard Bernstein (Piano),
Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany Date of Recording: 1968 Language: German
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