Franz Schubert: Lieder
Not Recorded by Fischer-Dieskau
Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-08-13
2014-11-12 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-23 — Brushed up for better readability
One of my ongoing projects is to listen through all Lieder by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828). Most of these are included with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau‘s ample recording collection “Schubert Lieder”. Fischer-Dieskau covered virtually all of Schubert’s large body of Lied compositions. There are only very few exceptions. I decided to start my review / listening experience of Schubert’s Lieder with those few exceptions. The following recordings by other artists cover most or all of these (certainly deliberate) “omissions”:
Kathleen Ferrier, Bruno Walter
Decca 433 476-2 (CD, mono); ℗ 1975 / © 1992
Booklet: 36 pp. e/f/d
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Fritz Wunderlich, Hubert Giesen
DG 449 747-2 (CD, mono); ℗ 1966
Booklet: 22 pp. English
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Margaret Price, Wolfgang Sawallisch
Orfeo C 001 811 A (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1972 / © 2011
Booklet: 16 pp. d/e/f
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Ernst Haefliger, Jörg-Ewald Dähler
Claves CD 50-8611 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1987
Booklet: 28 pp. d/f/e
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Lieder that Fischer-Dieskau Did Not Record
When screening my collection of Lieder by Franz Schubert, I found 6 Lieder that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has not recorded. The most likely cause for such omissions presumably was that they depict a female role (such as “Die junge Nonne” / “The young nun”). Or because they were explicitly written for female voice, such as the Romance from “Rosamunde”. The famous Lied “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” depicts a male role, but is clearly written for (mezzo)soprano. On top of that, the accompaniment by piano and clarinet really implies a female voice, as the clarinet (which does not match a male timbre) is set to imitate the voice, and vice versa. The decision not to sing / record the Lied “Liebhaber in allen Gestalten” D.558, though, is somewhat strange/odd, see below.
Lied D.497, “An die Nachtigall” (Matthias Claudius)
Unlike the Lied D.196 with the same title (but on a text by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty), this one (from 1816) on a poem by Matthias Claudius is seen as being for a female singer / role specifically. It is included in the recording with Margaret Price and Wolfgang Sawallisch. I looked around in YouTube, but I must say: no recording that I watched/ listened to comes close to this interpretation, with Margaret Price’s wonderfully balanced, great voice, the absence of any mannerism (such as excess vibrato, portamenti and slurs, etc.), and Sawallisch’s congenial accompaniment.
Recording: 1981; Duration: 1’27”; Rating: 4
Lied D.558, “Liebhaber in allen Gestalten” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Margaret Price also sings this Lied on a text by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. But here, I also have two recordings by tenors. It is unclear why Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau omitted this from his collection. However, the 3 recordings that I have cover this short Lied very well:
At the height of his career, the Swiss tenor Ernst Haefliger (1919 – 2007) was quite well-known at least in Europe, both for opera as well as for Lied. In the later part of his career, he focused on the Lied, where he was frequently accompanied by Erik Werba. In the recording of this Lied, the accompaniment is done by the late Swiss harpsichordist Jörg Ewald Dähler (1933 – 2018), playing on a period instrument, a fortepiano by Franz Brodmann (Vienna, 1820). That instrument is certainly of the same class as those by Graf or Broadwood from the same period, also featuring moderator and a bassoon pedals. Unfortunately, what transpires through this recording (compared to a modern concert grand) is just a thinner sound, maybe slightly less precision in the mechanics. But that could also be due to the fact that the main instrument of that artist is the harpsichord.
I can’t tell whether the recording team lacked the experience to bring out / highlight the specific sound of that instrument, or whether that’s due to the artist’s hesitation to really use / exploit the extra sound colors of that fortepiano. Haefliger’s voice is instantly recognizable: I know it well, and he performed up to my expectations, with very good diction and a natural tone. The recording also exposes his typical, slightly crisp timbre. It’s a good, but not a five-star performance from the singer’s part, but I had higher expectations for the fortepiano accompaniment.
Recording: 1986; Duration: 1’19”; Rating: 3
The German singer Fritz Wunderlich (1930 – 1966) clearly was one of the best lyrical tenors ever. Here, he sings with his favorite accompanist Hubert Giesen (1898 – 1980), in a very nice interpretation! Wunderlich’s singing is — lyrical (of course), with almost legato articulation (not excessive, though), exposing the brilliance of his voice, but it all sounds and remains natural, never pushed, as expected with this artist. The only little drawback with this recording is that the accompaniment is placed in background. The tempo is a tad faster than with Haefliger and Dähler.
Recording: 1965; Duration: 1’17”; Rating: 5
The German pianist and conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch (1923 – 2013) accompanied Margaret Price (1941 – 2011) in an equally impressive interpretation, though quite different from Wunderlich’s. Most notably, the “Fisch” and “frisch” (fresh, vivid) is (appropriately) articulated almost staccato, and the entire interpretation highlights the joyful, vivid, youthful aspect of the poem, even though the tempo is somewhat slower than Wunderlich’s. This is entirely supported by Wolfgang Sawallisch’s accompaniment, to me clearly the best among those three: excellent, overall!
Note that Price & Sawallisch are the only ones to include the second verse “Ich wollt’ ich wär’ ein Pferd…” (“I wish I was a horse…”), hence the longer duration (maybe this verse was the excuse for Fischer-Dieskau to omit this Lied from his recording? Interestingly, the liner notes in this recording don’t even include that second verse in the English and French translations!).
Recording: 1981; Duration: 1’48”; Rating: 5
Lied D.720, “Suleika” I (Marianne von Willemer)
Clearly, a Lied for a female role (hence no recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau). The first CD above includes this, in a live recording of a Lied recital that Kathleen Ferrier (1912 – 1953) gave at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949. She was accompanied by the pianist and conductor Bruno Walter (1876 – 1962). This is volume 9 of a series that Decca issued in memory of Kathleen Ferrier. Clearly, she was a very exceptional singer: some listeners (especially younger ones) may remain indifferent towards her, or may even reject her strong, somewhat heavy vibrato, and indeed, major parts of today’s audiences may deem her vibrato unacceptable.
But there is definitely something special about her deep alto voice and timbre (I can’t judge her volume and projection now, given the mono recordings that we have), some of which was due to a physiological peculiarity. Equally certainly she was capturing audiences through her strong, radiant & warm personality. On top of that, the brevity of her career, which ended when she had to succumb to breast cancer, certainly helped glorifying and transfiguring Kathleen Ferrier as a singer. It may not be easy for some listeners (including myself) to abstract her interpretation from the tragedy of her life. However, I do think that her interpretations are worth being remembered, this particular Lied included.
Bruno Walter was a fatherly friend and mentor to her and certainly helped her achieving excellent interpretations of German Lied compositions, and he also proves to be an excellent accompanist.
Recording: 1949; Duration: 4’49”; Rating: 4
Lied D.828, “Die junge Nonne” (Johann Nikolaus Craigher)
Also this Lied is included with the first CD above, the live recording of a recital that Kathleen Ferrier gave at the Edinburgh Festival in 1949, accompanied by the pianist and conductor Bruno Walter. All comments above apply equally to this Lied as well.
Recording: 1949; Duration: 4’32”; Rating: 4
Lied D.965, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (Wilhelm Müller & Karl August Varnhagen von Ense)
This is one of Schubert’s last compositions, written upon request by a friend, an opera singer. The underlying poems don’t imply a female role (to the contrary!). But as this compositions includes the clarinet as second melody voice, it is only performed by female singers. A mezzosoprano voice is the best match to the clarinet. These two voices are typically imitating each other, so ideally, their sound color should match. I really can’t imagine a male singer performing this. Indeed, one finds a fair number of recordings with soprano voices, one by Max Emanuel Cencic (boy soprano), and a single one by a counter-tenor.
The piano is really mostly accompaniment, providing the rhythmic and harmonic foundation, while the clarinet and the singer are sharing the lead role in this composition. The song actually incorporates three poems: two by Wilhelm Müller (1794 – 1827), and the central one by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense (1785 – 1858). Poem #2 was erroneously attributed to Helmina von Chézy (1783 – 1856), due to an error in the listing (1874) of Schubert’s works by Gustav Nottebohm (1817 – 1882). That error still persists, e.g., in the liner notes of both recordings mentioned below.
The first poem depicts the lonely shepherd on a mountain, singing about his distant love; loneliness, longing and desperation dominate the second poem. The final poem/scene is is re-gathering hope and joy. The composition is extremely demanding on the voice, as Schubert’s setting is very instrumental, demanding extreme voice control, a wide range, from brilliant heights down to the lowest end, and the final poem also includes some virtuosic coloraturas.
That brings me to the interpretation by Margaret Price, Hans Schöneberger (clarinet), and Wolfgang Sawallisch: I really like this recording. Margaret Price’s voice control is excellent. Her voice is perfectly adapting to the sound of the clarinet (soft and smoothly played), using moderate vibrato, excellent also in mezza voce parts, as well as in the messa di voce. She is not overpowering her part, and perfectly in tune with the clarinet (also in terms of articulation). Wolfgang Sawallisch retains his role as supporter. And of course the music is simply wonderful, one of Schubert’s masterworks! I’m sure there are other good recordings among the 36 listed on Wikipedia, but with this I don’t feel an urgent need to look for alternative recordings!
Recording: 1981; Duration: 11’39”; Rating: 5
Music to “Rosamunde”, op.26, D.797 (after Helmina von Chézy)
In 1823, Schubert composed music to a play by Helmina von Chézy. It’s apparently not the best of librettos, likely responsible for the disappearance of the play from the stage. Individual parts of Schubert’s composition are still played, though: in particular, the overture. The above recordings include number 3b of the play “Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern” (Rosamunde, duchess of Cyprus), a romance in the version for female voice and piano. Schubert published this as op.26. Two of the above recordings include it:
- Kathleen Ferrier and Bruno Walter: Again from the same recital (Edinburgh, 1949) as the two Lieder D.720 and D.828 above. I’m a little less impressed about this interpretation than with the other two. That’s not because of Kathleen Ferrier (who is as impressive here as in the tracks above), but because of Bruno Walter’s excessively romantic accompaniment, dominated by arpeggiandi.
Recording: 1949; Duration: 3’55”; Rating: 3
- Margaret Price and Wolfgang Sawallisch: This interpretation differs from Kathleen Ferrier’s not just because Margaret Price sings it at a higher pitch (soprano vs. alto), but because in my opinion Wolfgang Sawallisch provides a (vastly) superior accompaniment.
Recording: 1981; Duration: 3’52”; Rating: 5
For additional postings on the recording with Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen see the Listening Diary 2012-11-01 (Schumann: Dichterliebe), and the more detailed follow-up posting “Schumann: Liederkreis op.39, Dichterliebe op.48” (also covering Beethoven’s Lied “Adelaide”, op.46). Additional Lieder by Franz Schubert will be covered in upcoming postings, as I’ll discuss the bulk of Fischer-Dieskau’s recordings and compare it with others in my (modest) collection.