Lieder, Vol. 3 (Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Daniel Barenboim)*
Unusually, the label on the box understates the case. In addition to the three Michelangelo songs and all 18 (male) Eichendorff Lieder, as advertised, there are nine songs from the Lieder aus verschiedenen Dichtern Vol. II (the other four have already appeared in the earlier sets - 2740 113, 12/74 but now deleted, and 2740 156, 11/76) plus 22 posthumously published songs, of which all except Über Nacht are to be found in the Nachgelassene Lieder II published for the Wolf Society in 1969. These last have perhaps mainly specialist interest.
Assessments of the performance will depend on one's view of the Lied. Is it dramatic or lyric, public or private? There's a story that W. B. Yeats was once asked whether he would like to hear his Innisfree, a solitary man's desire for further solitude, set to music and sung by massed choirs. His reply is not on record; but many similar misunderstandings are. Interpreting Lieder as mainly drama or declamation seems to me as mistaken as hiring the Royal Albert Hall for an intimate occasion (such as a Lieder recital). Some may admire the rhetoric employed on these discs to stress supposedly significant phrases, as if they were printed in red letters or italics; to others, the effect will just sound like Fischer-Dieskau taxing his voice and their patience.
Of course there are great treasures in this new box, including some gems of quiet legato singing. One would expect no less from these two masters of their respective arts. But their superiority is a matter of degree; it is not necessarily in the right kind. And if we take the superlatives for granted and get down to comparative detail, it is hard to deny that there have been better performances by other duos of the same songs and by this duo of other songs. The most direct and revealing comparisons are of Barenboim with Moore, and of Fischer-Dieskau with his younger self. The voice now sounds a tone or so deeper, and hence perhaps rather too grave, e.g. for Eichendorff light‑hearted character studies. The soldier figure has changed from private to general. But, more seriously, so have the interpretations. Listen to the very first phrase of the first song, Der Freund, in each version; the difference is obvious, crucial and typical. The young singer is all tenderness for a sleeping child, just like the lullaby music. But in the present version "schliefe" is not at all a sung feeling; it is just a sung word. Examples proliferate. In Der Glücksritter, Lady Luck asks her hero if she has any rivals : "hast du deren mehr ?". That inquiry once had an amused easing inflexion, again just like the musical phrase. Now it is just polite conversation. Similarly the piano accompaniments lack immediacy. What has become of the zest and fun of Moore's trills, the strut and stamp of the march-tune? Where are the repeated accented allusions to Die Meistersinger in the Reinick Gesellenlied? It's no compensation to have inessential keyboard detail brought out, as at the word "Kummer" in the Körner Ständchen. The falling minor second already means sadness, in Wolf's language; to underline it is like putting rouge on a blush.
Although singer and pianist each pursues his Wolf in the same way, they are not always together; thus the delectable Wohin mit der Freud? sounds like an illustrated argument about the right tempo. And the decisive separating force is perhaps, paradoxically, the persistent parallelism between voice and piano dynamics. Throughout the whole pack of 52 pieces, whenever the piano plays a big chord the voice is called upon to trump it.
The occasional exceptions provide some marvellous and authentic moments, as in the first of the Michelangelo songs, Wohl denk' ich oft. "Then no man took heed of me" says the poem, musing on past life. As the voice droops broodingly down over that thought, the piano sound rises and dwindles around it, in sighs of regret. Such expressive and flexible dynamic contrast is surely essential to these songs; and whenever Wolf is thus glimpsed behind some bars, there are sighs for the free, wild wide-ranging variety.
© Gramophone, Aug. 1977 (p. 331)