Strauss Lieder (Fischer-Dieskau/Moore)
This six-record set contains all the songs for voice and piano written between 1882 and 1942 and published in the composer's lifetime, together with the posthumous opp. 87 and 88, and adding Rote Rosen, Liebesliedchen, Zugemessene Rhythmen, Xenion, but omitting op. 29 no. 2, op. 36 nos. 2 and 3, op. 37 no. 4, op. 41 no. 1, op. 43 no. 2, op. 49 nos. 3, 7 and 8, op. 67 nos. 1, 2 and 3, op. 68 nos. 2, 3, 5 and 6, and op. 87 no. 2. The recordings of opp. 10, 15 and 17 were first published in 1968; the rest are new.
It's hard to gather how all this Strauss was picked. It can't be sexual selection that leaves the old Adam out (Hans Adam war ein Erdenkloss, op. 87 no. 2) while embracing a young witch (Jung Hexenlied, op. 39 no. 2). The latter sounds odd; that virile voice riding a broomstick suggests the Chevalier d'Eon. Again, Meinem Kinde op. 37 no. 2 is all maternal tenderness in text and tone; yet this too is reproduced, and as beautifully as could conceivably be desired. So are most of the other 130 songs - almost 90% of Strauss's mature songwriting, which anticipated (and may indeed have influenced) Hugo Wolf's.
It began as, and mainly remained, the 19thcentury ballad, whose blend of elegance and sentiment was savoured in salon and saloon alike. Soon the songs sound like lost arias in search of a stage door, or understudies for the tone poems and operas. By 1900 the vocal flights quite outsoar the fin de siècle verse; words like “bosom” and “blossom” are set flowing with milk and honey. Then the promised land of German socialism briefly bred a new strength and swing, as in the hammering downbeats of Lied des Steinklopfers. But that lost cause had no lasting effect; and when the songwriting returned after the 1914-18 war it seemed spiritually disabled, e.g. in the self-indulgent Krämerspiegel op. 66, where musical mastery is lavished on a lampoon. Here Strauss comes so close to prostituting his art that he must have seen the red light; hence perhaps the further long hall before the reflective sunset afterglow of the last songs.
Thus the typical Strauss song is no unified lied but a contrast between lowly lyric verse and highly dramatic music. Such hybrids show great variety but are hard to reproduce; hence no doubt their rarity in the catalogues. About one aspect there can be no two views. Gerald Moore, required to make the piano part sound orchestral as well as accompanimental, passes that test and surpasses himself by doing just that, in song after song. He appears as not only a duo musician to his fingertips but a concert virtuoso as well; more power lo his elbow.
But no singer can follow more than one line at a time. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau understandably chooses to display his histrionic range as well as his vocal compass, in the fullest and finest of gamuts. Perhaps the colouring is sometimes too loud, as when the rose glows with crimson rapture in Ständchen op. 17 no. 2, or the evening shines in a purple haze in Traum durch die Dämmerung op. 29 no. 1. Again, the cry of “take off your ribbons and silks” in Hochzeitlich Lied op. 37 no. 6 sounds less like an erotic trance than a rude awakening, which goes not only too far but in a direction contrary to Strauss's own “durchweg leise…im Vortrag”. Fortunately most of the many expressive moments are unforced. Then they come off easily and tenderly, as the silks should have done. In sum, this set must appeal to all devotees of its composer, pianist or singer; it should appeal lo teachers, as an almost complete historical record; it may well appeal lo lieder-lovers in general, despite occasional reservations about the songs or the singing. That appeal can only be enhanced by the very reasonable price; but it can only be diminished by the inadequacies of the texts, notes and translations provided. For so important an issue, the booklet deserved specialist cover, not a mere patchwork from several different hands (some of them decidedly shaky). Why should EMI stand for even minor inaccuracies? Why should anyone?
The Musical Times, May 1972 (pp. 468-469) © the estate of eric sams, 1972