Die schöne Magelone op. 33 (Fischer-Dieskau, Richter)
The Magelone-Lieder have been generally regarded as a rather quaint old cycle, with the performers more likely than the performance to come off in practice. This is because the action is at a standstill; it is incidental music without any incident. Brahms's sampler of lyrics from Tieck's medieval tapestry is all loose ends, unconnected by any thread of narrative. Yet they make a colourful self-portrait of the young composer from the provinces as the young Count Peter from Provence, sundered from his affianced bride by his own folly and the toils of a dark enchantress. Similar themes recur in the contemporary Goethe cantata Rinaldo. The ideas of (a) Agathe, (b) books borrowed from Schumann, and (c) Clara are metamorphosed into (a) lovesongs, (b) ballad-styles borrowed from Schubert, and (c) piano music.
This unique blend of introvert content and extrovert form calls for a lieder-singer who is also outstanding in opera, and an accompanist who is also a virtuoso. An unrealistic demand - until the present account, which seems to me ideal in every sense (except that the Gesellschaft text would arguably have been preferable to Peters in one or two variant passages, e.g. at “Ruhm schien mir ein Morgentraum” in no.4). It adds a new major work to the lied repertory, no less. The old cycle returns with a new power, not only to move but to transport. I see that the pedalling has already been admired; the breath control is no less impressive. So of course is the balance. Such a record is not achieved otherwise than by teamwork, and the mechanics have been well managed by all concerned. Whoever had the eventful idea of bringing these two great artists together in tandem deserves (like the resulting performance) a special award.
The Musical Times, Jan. 1972 (p. 44) © the estate of eric sams