on 14 November 2014
Semi-incarcerated in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, if Michelangelo's statue of Moses were ever to break free from its ligatures to address God in a stentorian voice, accompanied by a choir of giants and giantesses, the end-product would bear resemblance to this disc. This is magnificence itself. Fischer-Dieskau leaves his fussiness and pedagogy at the door of the church to provide us with a magisterial performance that resonates in the mind and soul. Above all, one marvels at the lower register of his voice.
While this performance is Bach writ large, there is nothing `Huddersfield-ish' about it. Transparency and clarity of diction reign supreme in the choir even as it propounds the grandeur of the subject and its realisation. Nor is there any evidence of diet-Bach as spruiked by the likes of Jeggy. Consider `Den Tod niemand zwingen kunnt' from BWV 4 as performed here by Munich Bach Choir: it leaves one as mesmerised and befuddled as the Roman legionaries standing guard at the tomb - what on earth has just happened here?
Even if you do not subscribe to Bach's metaphysics, this is an engulfing experience where considerations of style, recording quality and head-count are ultimately irrelevant. For those believers among us, it offers immersion into the passion, death and resurrection of JC. For those who abjure such dynamics, it is another curveball to dodge.
on 17 December 2013
The music is inherently gorgeous and I have spent 20 years exploring different recordings and I am thankful for Richter/Fischer-Dieskau for starting me on this journey. But it has been all wonderfully pointless; I found the best recording at the beginning.
I'm an atheist but I find Ich Habe Genug, in particular, hugely moving; I can't imagine how it must move the pious. If there is a better way of spending £10 I'm not aware of it....
These performances were first recorded in 1969 and 1970, when one of the most magnificent voices of the 20th century was still in its superb prime. Of the three cantatas here one, # 56, is new to my collection and offers us 4 successive solos from the great man plus a short final chorale. The early Christ lag in Todesbanden cantata is mainly choral with only one stanza sung solo, and I own another performance from Gardiner's `pilgrimage' series with Stephen Varcoe as soloist. Of the celestial Ich habe genug this is now the fourth account in my collection, and I wonder how many more I shall acquire before either my collection of the Bach cantatas or its collector's allotted time is complete. Fischer-Dieskau joins the august company of John Shirley-Quirk (with Marriner), Ian Bostridge in his celebrated debut disc with Europa Galante, and the lamented Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in making a firm single recommendation at such a level of excellence something I find to be beyond me.
As far as the `Christ lag' cantata is concerned, I would dare to say that I probably prefer the Gardiner/Varcoe offering to this one, although I prefer both to either. Varcoe acquits himself splendidly and has nothing to fear from comparison with the great Berliner. What tips the balance for me is the orchestral side, where Gardiner and his nomadic colleagues delight me especially with the freshness and crispness of their work, if that is not unduly suggestive of talking about lettuce. However I cite comparisons here only as a side-issue and as a very rough guide to some alternatives, although I should probably mention that the Bostridge disc contains the sinfonia from cantata # 4 as a small filler. The point of this issue for me is to hear Fischer-Dieskau sing Bach, and if I never in my life hear any alternative account of the Kreuzstab cantata I shall not feel deprived.
How many times, and from how many artists, could I wish to hear Schlummert ein from the cantata Ich habe genug? It is a piece that I could listen to more or less indefinitely, and my luck has held to the extent that the performances I have chosen are without exception superb. The one that is significantly different from the others in concept is Bostridge's, and that is more because of Europa Galante than because of Bostridge. This group provide an all-out-authentic sound, (as well as using a flute and not an oboe obbligato), the other three ensembles seemingly using modern instruments although admirably in harmony with early 18th century style and idiom. Hunt Lieberson is given a more vivid recording than are the others, and that makes the most of the startling effect she creates with the low notes at `selig zu' highlighted by a long pause following. For the rest, I do not wish to make detailed comparisons. Fischer-Dieskau's disc offers a selection of works that I don't think is paralleled elsewhere, making comparisons to that extent irrelevant. The disc is significant to me above all for bringing me a great and unique artist in Bach to complement the Beethoven, Schubert, Loewe, Brahms, Wolf and Strauss works where he already features in my collection.
The digital remastering seems to have been done in 1984, if I have understood the matter rightly. The recorded sound is not remarkable in any way, but I have no complaints. Above all it is faithful to that magnificent vocal tone, completely unmistakable. The liner note is a touch Teutonic in style and content, but useful up to a point and better translated than sometimes. Both note and texts are given in the usual three languages. 70 minutes or so of Fischer-Dieskau, with worthy orchestral and choral backing, singing a selection that contains one of the most sublime solos I know, plus a lot more that is not much worse. Obviously I can recommend this strongly, and if any of the others mentioned sound right to you I can recommend them too.
on 9 October 2014
As David Bryson notes Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's incomparably beautiful and smooth lyric baritone was in its prime when the Archiv LP coupling these two famous cantatas was issued. There is by 1970 an added effortless downward extension adding further to a vocal and expressive range so extensive one could drop and lose most other baritones, including for example our John Shirley Quirk (a fine voice in the right repertoire) or the slightly off the mark HIP baritone for Harnoncourt, Max van Egmond, even old school forthright, stand and deliver, but blunt Hans Hotter, or even the fine nuanced and honest reading by Hermann Prey who's voice alone can be mentioned in the same breath as Fischer Dieskau's for silvery flexibility and warmth.
Outside the Germanic tradition of Bach cantata singing comes the celebrated recording in 1968 by the great French baritone Souzay with Helmut Winschermann on Philips and also somewhat outside our comparisons due to its availability only as part of a £50 odd box set omly available as a deleted collectible. However, there is throughout this interpretation a less strident and more humble approach which is deeply moving. I think those seeking a spiritual heart in these works will find it more readily here than with Fischer Dieskau and Richter. Also there is a more natural balance between soloist and orchestra on the Philips disc than here with Archiv/DG where it seems to me the spotlight is too much on the singer. If you want an ambiance that is suggestive of what a great performance could sound like in a church or hall with an excellent acoustic then Souzay and Winschermann must top the list, for example the rocking accompaniment to the "Schlummert ein" lullaby as it is termed, is played and recorded perfectly here.
There is an earlier recording by the great Berliner, but because of early studio microphone techniques and his own youthful timbre this seems devoid of interpretive power which surely must lie at the heart of these great religious and spiritual works of art. In fact they sound like those early 1950s EMI recordings where he seems to croon as much as sing. But you have on this later recording a performance of the sort of power he was well able to project in the concert hall, in fact to the back of the hall, while floating those limpid high notes over the heads of his audience. Classic and classy singing!
The only downside to this disc is the atrocious choice of the "filler", the dour Christ Lag im Todesbanden, which is given a heavy lacklustre performance here by Richter and his Munich players even weighing down the solo line up.
A slight lifting of the serious earnest mood would have been appropriate on this disc, given the main coupling, and the other cantata, so much better performed and joyous, which originally accompanied the dread Christ Lag... on vinyl, which was Wie Schon Leuchtet der Morgenstern, would have been in my view a more satisfying programme.
After all, Ich Habe Genug and Ich Will den Kreuzstarb..well they both conclude on a happy shining note don't they?
Avoid all the others (except perhaps Prey who really does rival DFD here, or Souzay if your pockets can stretch to it) and get this recording - but on vinyl! I have both, and can vouch the CD transfers are fairly muddy. Get the Wie Schon Leuchtet.. as well, a good one from Richter and Archiv.
on 2 December 2013
When one of the greatest singers of the 20 century is singing some of the workers of one of the greatest ever composers, something would have to have gone horribly wrong for it not to be good. BUT this cd is not jsut good, but much, much better. F-D approaches each piece with sensitivity and understanding; and he demonstrates some of the phenomenal qualities of his voice.
One can sit back and let the beauty of the composition and the performance wash over you, or you can listen intently. It stands up to both ... and everything in between.