By 1976 Fischer-Dieskau had been performing before the microphone for almost thirty years and was approaching the end of his vocal prime -- he turned 51 that year. Yet his mastery of Wolf's intricate, concentrated, turn-on-a-dime idiom was at its height. You can buy any number of individual recitals by him that feature Wolf, and 175 songs on six CDs is a lot to absorb. Nonetheless, this budget repackaging is a must-listen. The singer got a new lease on his artistic life by taking up partnerships with noted pianists like Brendel, Richter, and Barenboim. Frankly, no musician is great enough to find an original interpretation of this many songs, but Barenboim has a real personality, and needless to add, so does F-D. Their general level of excellence is very high.
Wolf can bring out extremes of expression in any singer, so intense is his musical voice. You'd think that Fischer-Dieskau would fall back on his worst traits of underlining the text too heavily, spitting out consonants, and barking through the loud, fast passages. Happily, there's a minimum of that, perhaps because Barenboim is so unflashy and restrained. I am not a great fan of F-D, yet I felt here that he was quite strong in his ability to characterize each song, so many of which evoke characters in intense psychological states -- this is world-weary, self-conscious late Romanticism on the verge of Freud. I also appreciated the sweetness of the singer's lyrical moments. Even when a reading feels a bit too plain, it's never faked, generic, or rhetorical. All to the good, then, in a box set that every lover of Wolf won't want to miss.
P.S. - See one of the comments below for how to access the texts for the songs online.
The program, by general groupings, is as follows:
Der König bei der Krönung
Gedichte von Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Songs (3) on poems by Michelangelo Buonarroti
Lieder nach Heine
Lieder nach Lenau
Andenken (Text: Friedrich Matthisson)
Der Schwalben Heimkehr
Auf einer Wanderung (No. 15 from Mörike-Lieder)
26 Ja, die Schönst'! Ich sagt' es offen
Nach dem Abschiede
Über Nacht Lieder aus der Jugendzeit
Zur Ruh, zur Ruh!
Wächterlied auf der Wartburg
Wohin mit der Freud? (No. 1 from Reinick-Lieder)
Liebchen, wo bist du? (No. 2 from Reinick-Lieder)
Nachtgruss (No. 3 from Reinick-Lieder)
Frühlingsglocken (No. 4 from Reinick-Lieder)
Ständchen 'Komm in die stille Nacht!' (No. 5 from Reinick-Lieder)
Liebesbotschaft (No. 6 from Reinick-Lieder)
Frohe Botschaft (No. 9 from Reinick-Lieder)
Lied des transferierten Zettel
Drei Gedichte von Robert Reinick
Keine gleicht von allen Schönen
Sonne der Schlummerlosen