Monday, May 27, 2002

[5/27/2012] A farewell to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (continued)


Fischer-Dieskau at 80
(from the July 2005 BBC Music Magazine interview)


We've been through the monumental (roughly half-hour) final movement, "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell"), of Mahler's song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde" (The Song of the Earth), swallowing it first in pieces and then whole in the course of remembering Maureen Forrester in July 2010. (Really, could we have remembered Forrester properly without "Der Abschied"?

As I've said before, I've never been that big a fan of Fischer-Dieskau's way with Mahler, which generally seemed to me overly fussed and fake-interpreted. But if we're going to traffic in farewells -- and I don't mean the tidy "parting is such sweet sorrow" kind we listened to Friday -- then I think we turn inevitably to the great final movement of Das Lied.

The baritone option for the three low-voice songs always seems like a good idea, but I've never heard it really work, mostly because while baritones can sing the music, it sits differently enough in the male voice to leave them mostly worrying about vocal problems. That said, I think Fischer-Dieskau's first recording, with that much-underrated conductor Paul Kletzki, is as close an attempt as I've heard.

The later recording with Leonard Bernstein has always been hard for me to peg. A lot of the time it doesn't much engage or compel me, but if I'm in the right mood, it can do both.

We hear first Fischer-Dieskau's two recordings of Das Lied as soloist, and then the recording he made as conductor. The three movements out of the six written for the "low voice" soloist are singable by either a mezzo-soprano (or contralto) or a baritone. Given the overwhelming predominance of female performances, I think we've all gone through the phase of imagining that the music would really work better dropped down into the male range. Unfortunately, it just doesn't. When the music goes high, it moves into an area that in any self-respecting mezzo or even contralto voice should have a distinctive fullness and expressivity, whereas in the male voice it lands the singer right smack in the area of the vocal break, where his first concern has to be just singing it respectably, never mind fine points of interpretation. (It took me awhile, but I came to really love LB's audio and video remake with Christa Ludwig, René Kollo, and the Israel Philharmonic.)

As for the Fischer-Dieskau-conducted performance, how could we not include it?

MAHLER: Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth):
vi. "Der Abschied" ("The Farewell")

[English translation by Deryck Cooke, © 1967]

The sun is going down behind the mountains.
In every valley evening is descending,
bringing its shadows, which are full of coolness.
O look! where like a silver bark afloat,
the moon through the blue lake of heaven soars upwards.
I sense the shivering of a delicate breeze
behind the dark fir trees.

The flowers grow pale in the twilight.
The earth is breathing, full of rest and sleep;
all desire now turns to dreaming.
Weary mortals wend homewards,
so that, in sleep, forgotten joy
and youth they may learn anew.
The birds huddle silent on the branches.
The world is falling asleep!

It blows cool in the shadow of my fir trees.
I stand here and wait for my friend.
I wait for him, to take the last farewell.
I long, O my friend, to be by your side,
to enjoy the beauty of this evening.
Where are you lingering? You leave me long alone!
I wander to and fro with my lute
on pathways that billow with soft grass.
O beauty! O eternal life- and love-intoxicated world!

Orchestral interlude

He alighted from his horse and handed him the drink
of farewell.
He asked him whither he was going,
and also why, why it had to be.
He spoke; his voice was veiled:
"You, my friend --
In this world fortune was not kind to me!
Whither I go? I go, I wander in the mountains,
I seek rest for my lonely heart!
I journey to the homeland, to my resting place;
I shall never again go seeking the far distance.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!

The dear earth everywhere
blossoms in spring and grows green again!
Everywhere and eternally the distance shines bright and blue!
Eternally . . . eternally . . .

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Philharmonia Orchestra, Paul Kletzki, cond. EMI, recorded October 1959

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Decca, recorded April 1966

Yvi Jänicke, mezzo-soprano; Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, cond. Orfeo, recorded live, June 22, 1996


The orchestral performance is of particular interest for the conductor. This 1963 coupling of Mahler Rückert songs (the complete Kindertotenlieder and four of the five separate Rückert settings) is the only Mahler I recall ever hearing Karl Böhm conduct. (This obviously isn't the case with Fischer-Dieskau's piano colleague in the -- really drawn-out -- piano-accompanied performance.)

MAHLER: Rückert-Lieder: "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I have lost touch with the world")
I have lost touch with the world,
with which I formerly wasted much time.
It has for so long heard nothing of me,
it may well think that I have died.

And for me it doesn't matter at all
if it takes me for dead.
I can't even say anything against it,
for really I am dead to the world.

I am dead to the worldly tumult,
and rest in a quiet place.
I live alone in my heaven,
in my loving, in my song.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Berlin Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded June 18, 1963

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Leonard Bernstein, piano. CBS/Sony, recorded Nov. 6, 1968


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