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The most beautiful and accomplished liederabender EVER recorded
on 3 May 2013
Nachtviolen with which Dietrich Fischer Dieskau frequently closed or encored his Schubert recitals is, given his passing last year, a great joy to hear in this recital. In fact. all of these artists are no longer living, so the title is anachronistic. But this is a fine testament to their legendary vocal gifts. This recital was most strong in the individual segments. The Nachtviolen as mentioned above contained in the Schubert segment from Fischer Dieskau is superb, I really think his account of Im Abendrot is his best on record. However, though sadly omitted from this CD, in Abschied he gladly allows Gerald Moore to gallop away on the piano, after all it was the latter's grand retirement bash. Again, Fischer Dieskau is far more impressive here than in his numerous studio recordings for DG or EMI, though, as with the other singers, DFD can occasionally be caught straining to project himself in the inappropriately large and horribly dry acoustic of the RFH, the miracle of the great singer is their ability to overcome such problems so that every nuance and vocal inflection is projected clearly, which is the case here. His Orfeo series of live liederabend from the Salzburg Festival in the 1950s, seem to be crushed by the weight of the occasion and the solemn serious nature of the songs chosen, whereas here at the RFH the singing shines with joy and celebration - with moderate audience enthusiasm and support, never intrusive - adding to the atmosphere of this live recording. The words "legacy" and "testament" or "historic" have been used so indiscriminately by record companies plugging their products, even by reviewers and Amazon itself, so as to lose value, however, THIS document is the real thing: and an immense pleasure to listen throughout.
Victoria de los Angeles in Brahms is an absolute delight (though her fabulous Der Mainacht is omitted here as it was from the LP set) while Schwarzkopf in Wolf and in particular Kennst du das Land is simply stupendous! With such giant voices it is no surprise the duets and trios produce mixed results.
So the DFD/Schwarzkopf Schumann duets are weaker however, though still interesting. Not a patch on the live recording of various romantic duets (Haydn, Schumann, Cornelius, Mendelssohn and Brahms) Fischer Dieskau and Janet Baker cut for EMI a few years later (1970?) in the more intimate acoustic of London South Bank's beloved Queen Elizabeth Hall. Here the natural impetuosity of the baritone eager to emote and dramatise in these duets is suitably reigned in by a partner whose "English" mezzo-soprano is even smoother and more finely regulated than his own wonderful baritone! If you want to hear a great selection of duets performed "just right" (with Daniel Barenboim accompanying on the piano) then I urge you to seek out a copy of this recording on LP, because unfortunately and for no apparent reason it has never been transferred to CD apart from a couple of Brahms songs on a Janet Baker/Barbirolli Ravel/Chausson two-fer (presumably as a filler) how odd? The same recording engineer was responsible for this disc and the RFH concert under review: Suvi Raj Grubb who started as an assistant to the great Walter Legge, the EMI boss who was responsible for bringing all three singers into the EMI house after World War Two and marrying one of them! Full marks to him! Again there is a fine DG CD of Schumann duets featuring DFD and his then wife, Julia Varady the Hungarian soprano, and Peter Schreier in some songs,but again the very warm and atmospheric Queen Elizabeth Hall concert completely outshines this DG disc which is strangely unromantic and cold although it is a well produced studio recording with a great booklet and translations. So much for the sterile studio disc!
Before this single budget CD was brought out, I do believe there was double CD full price transfer of the 2LP original commemorative issue in 1967. However, even that contained a number of omissions at the request of the artists.
However, the sound is surprisingly excellent (the EMI engineers including Suvi really worked miracles on that rotten dry Festival Hall acoustic) the individual and ensemble singing finer than any you are likely to experience now, anywhere either on disc or in concert, in short historic then, and doubly historic now with the passing of all these great musicians.
This disc is a great introduction to the art of song (and you chase up better records of individual items and especially the Schumann duets as mentioned) as well as being essential for any collection of vocal music.
These live performances contain that extra atmospheric zest where music making virtually ignites and not one iota of vocal technique is lost in the occasion, so different and superior to the studio recordings however perfect they seem.
The background to the creation of this concert involving various managements (an enquiry by Ibbs and Tillet about the usual insurance arrangements if one or two artists cancelled was laughed off by Legge, but he WAS taking a risk!) is of interest in itself. In the event, it went off perfectly. It sold out; the choir at the back of the stage was full and there was even seating on the platform!
The CD cuts Mr Moore's self-efacing obligatory thankyou speech (which by todays's standards sounds cringeworthy!) and gently closes with his piano arrangement of An Die Musik. When he left the stage he left for good. He really retired. And he was the real retiring star of the night.
The liner notes are good and full song texts and English translations are included.
Unmissable, especially at this small price, to have three of the greatest classical singers of the C20 singing in your living room accompanied by the greatest singer's partner on the piano for half a century...Gerald Moore.