Beethoven / Schubert / Schumann: Lieder
Schumann / Webern: Chamber Music

Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-11-01

2012-11-01 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-08-06 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-07 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-08 — Brushed up for better readability
2016-07-10 — Transferred a mis-placed addendum to this post

Table of Contents


Last month, I was really focusing on getting my Beethoven string quartet review project up to speed again, but I did listen to some other recordings as well, such as a couple of CDs with songs, mostly by Schumann (plus some Beethoven); there are a couple Schubert Lieder on these CDs as well, but I’m holding these for a review together with the complete cycle by Fischer-Dieskau / Moore. So, here we go:

Lieder by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann

Two CDs are new acquisitions:

Fischer-Dieskau / Moore: Schubert & Schumann

Schubert: Schwanengesang; Schumann: Dichterliebe - Fischer-Dieskau, Moore, CD cover

Schubert: 6 Lieder from Schwanengesang
Schumann: Dichterliebe op.48

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gerald Moore (Live, Salzburg, 1956)

Orfeo C 294 921 B (CD, stereo); © / ℗ 1992; EAN-13 4011790294124

Schubert: Schwanengesang; Schumann: Dichterliebe - Fischer-Dieskau, Moore, EAN-13 barcode
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Wunderlich / Giesen: Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann

Schumann: Dichterliebe; Beethoven/Schubert: Lieder - Wunderlich, Giesen, CD cover

Beethoven: Lieder WoO 123, 149, opp.46, 128
Schubert: 9 Lieder
Schumann: Dichterliebe op.48

Fritz Wunderlich, Hubert Giesen

DG 449 747-2 (CD, mono); ℗ 1966; barcode 028944974720

Schumann: Dichterliebe; Beethoven/Schubert: Lieder - Wunderlich, Giesen, UPC-A barcode
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I compared these with excerpts from the following recordings:

Matthias Goerne, Eric Schneider: Schumann

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, 12 Gedichte op.35 - Goerne, Schneider, CD cover

Schumann: Liederkreis, op.39; 12 Gedichte op.35

Matthias Goerne, Eric Schneider

Decca 460 797-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1999; barcode 028946079720

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, 12 Gedichte op.35 - Goerne, Schneider, UPC-A barcode
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Bryn Terfel, Malcolm Martineau: Schumann

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, Romanzen & Balladen - Terfel, Martineau, CD cover

Schumann: Liederkreis, op.39; Romanzen, Balladen

Bryn Terfel, Malcolm Martineau

DG 289 447 042-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2000; barcode 028944704228

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, Romanzen & Balladen - Terfel, Martineau, UPC-A barcode
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Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake: Schumann

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, Dichterliebe op.48 - Bostridge, Drake, CD cover

Schumann: Liederkreis, op.24; Dichterliebe op.48; 7 Lieder

Ian Bostridge, Julius Drake

EMI Classics 56575 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1998; barcode 724355657527

Schumann: Liedkreis op.39, Dichterliebe op.48 - Bostridge, Drake, UPC-A barcode
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First, a confession: most of us know specific types of music (i.e., a particular piece, a composer, an artist, etc.) by which (by whose music) we are deeply touched in our heart (sure, that happens in the brain…), moved, we get goose bumps, it may make us cry, etc. — I could list names / pieces from around 1500 (Lassus, Palestrina, etc.) up to compositions from the 20th century (Gorecki’s “Miserere”, some pieces by Arvo Pärt) that evoke that effect with me. A quick “dig” in my spontaneous memory seems to indicate that for me, this is most likely to happen with vocal music — in any case, Fritz Wunderlich’s voice can do that! Sometimes, it’s not an entire piece or movement: just a single or a few notes may be enough!

Fritz Wunderlich and Goosebumps

Two such instances come to mind:

  • in the second cantata of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), some passages in the second part of the aria “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet” in the recording with Karl Richter (with Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Franz Crass and the Münchener Bach Choir and Orchestra), and
  • in a recording of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (op.123) with Herbert von Karajan (with Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Walter Berry, with the Berlin Philharmonics and the Wiener Singverein), there is one such passage in the Credo (I think, it’s a single “Amen”). OK, that composition is very close to my heart anyway, but this is even more special.

Getting a Recording just because of Fritz Wunderlich?

Especially in the first example, that recording is something that I almost abhor: Karl Richter definitely has had his merits — at his time, but now I would not normally consider purchasing his recordings (brings back memories of Handel oratorios that I found almost disgusting, certainly utterly boring after having heard even moderately HIP-style recordings, many years ago (I’m not even talking about recordings with René Jacobs etc., but just merely recordings sung in English, such as with Colin Davis would do that!)

Also, in general I’m not a big fan of Herbert von Karajan (his excessive focus on a nice and even sound does not appeal to me) — nevertheless, in both cases, I’m temped to purchase the recordings just mentioned, for a mere few notes sung by Fritz Wunderlich that touch my heart! It is hard to say what it is that does this to me — something about his natural timbre, that “ping” (as my singing teacher used to call it), his effortless way of producing it, his naturally-sounding vibrato?

Comments on the Contents of the CDs

Lieder by Beethoven

Let me start with Fritz Wunderlich / Hubert Giesen and Lieder by Ludwig van Beethoven. With the above, I don’t mean to praise all of Wunderlich’s recordings — he does have his strengths and his weaknesses — see below. On the CD shown above, the best part (I think) is in the Lieder by Beethoven, and among these, especially “Adelaide”, op.46, and “Der Kuss”, op.128: the underlying poems by Friedrich von Matthisson and Christian Felix Weiße are not utterly deep or introspective (“Der Kuss” is actually witty, a pun!) — ideal for Fritz Wunderlich who sings these pieces without ever being forceful, just natural, never pushing his voice — very nice!

Robert Schumann: “Dichterliebe”, op.48

Lieder such as Robert Schumann‘s “Dichterliebe”, op.48, on poems by Heinrich Heine, are a different challenge: here, a “folklorist” / “pure beauty” approach is clearly not enough, and — in my opinion — a more “intellectual” approach (such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s) is better suited to do justice to these compositions. Here are short, preliminary results for three recordings of “Dichterliebe” (I’ll return to this, as I have just added another recording that I also have in the basement, in my LP collection):

  • Fritz Wunderlich / Hubert Giesen (1965): 4.1 / 5
  • Ian Bostridge / Julius Drake (1997): 4.8 / 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Gerald Moore (live in Salzburg, 1956): 5.0 / 5

Robert Schumann: Liederkreis op.39

The concert recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore from the Salzburg Festival 1956 (this was the real launch of FiDi’s career!) also includes two Lieder from Robert Schumann’s Liederkreis op.39: “Mondnacht” and “Schöne Fremde” — first, my ratings for “Mondnacht”:

  • Bryn Terfel / Malcolm Martineau (1999): 3.0 / 5
  • Matthias Goerne / Eric Schneider (1998): 4.0 / 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Gerald Moore (live in Salzburg, 1956): 5.0 / 5

and for “Schöne Fremde”:

  • Bryn Terfel / Malcolm Martineau (1999): 4.0 / 5
  • Matthias Goerne / Eric Schneider (1998): 4.0 / 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Gerald Moore (live in Salzburg, 1956): 5.0 / 5

Robert Schumann: Lied “Widmung” from “Myrthen”, op.25

Then, there’s the Lied “Widmung”, the first Liedfrom Robert Schumann’s song cycle “Myrten”, op.25:

  • Bryn Terfel / Malcolm Martineau (1999): 5.0 / 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Gerald Moore (live in Salzburg, 1956): 5.0 / 5

Robert Schumann: 12 Lieder, op.35

Fischer-Dieskau also sings “Erstes Grün” and “Wanderung” from Robert Schumann’s 12 Lieder after poems by Justinius Kerner, op.35; my ratings for both songs are identical:

  • Matthias Goerne / Eric Schneider (1998): 4.0 / 5
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Gerald Moore (live in Salzburg, 1956): 5.0 / 5

None of the “non-FiDi recordings” are bad or flawed at all — quite to the contrary! — but Fischer-Dieskau’s congenial interpretation (with Gerald Moore as his ideal partner at the piano) is simply very hard to beat. Fischer-Dieskau may later have been overly dominant, may have developed some exaggerated “features” (antics?) in his singing (just think of some of his trills!) — none of this is present here: here simply enters the scene at the height, the top of his abilities!

Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet op.44, Piano Quartet op.47

There’s one other recording that I listened to over the past month which I should mention — the newly released recording of the Jerusalem Quartet and Alexander Melnikov playing Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet op.44 and the Piano Quartet op.47:

Alexander Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet

Schumann: piano quintet op.44, piano quartet op.47 - Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet, CD cover

Schumann: Piano Quintet op.44, Piano Quartet op.47

Alexander Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet

Harmonia mundi France, HMC 902122 (CD, stereo); ℗ 2012

Schumann: piano quintet op.44, piano quartet op.47 - Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet, EAN-13 barcode
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Alexander Melnikov caught my attention in the recording of the Beethoven violin sonatas with Isabelle Faust, where he is the perfect / ideal partner for one of the top violinists of our days — and he did not disappoint my high expectations in this recording either! I have no comparison recording for the piano quartet op.47 (probably the lesser known among the two compositions played), but I did compare the piano quintet op.44 with one recording in my CD collection:

James Levine, LaSalle Quartet

Schubert: string quintet; Schumann: piano quintet - LaSalle, Levine, Harrell, CD cover

Schubert: String Quintet in C, D.956; Schumann: Piano Quintet op.44

LaSalle Quartet, Lynn Harrell (Schubert), James Levine (Schumann)

DG 435 071-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ 1979 / 1981 (Schumann)
(Currently not available)

Schubert: string quintet; Schumann: piano quintet - LaSalle, Levine, Harrell, UPC-A barcode
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My ratings for Schumann’s op.44:

  • Alexander Melnikov, Jerusalem Quartet (2012): 5.0 / 5
  • James Levine, LaSalle Quartet (1981): 4.0 / 5

Both are excellent recordings, I should say — but overall, I prefer the newer recording, for Alexander Melnikov’s clarity and alertness: features that are also very convincing in his recordings with Isabelle Faust, just mentioned. Note that in the first and third movement, the LaSalle Quartet plays faster (8:05 vs. 8:47 and 4:17 vs. 4:46, respectively), while in the last movement it’s the Jerusalem Quartet which is faster (6:49 vs. 7:27); especially in the last movement, the older recording sounds noticeably heavier.

Anton Webern, Music for String Quartet

5 Movements for String Quartet, op.5; 6 Bagatellen, op.9

Finally, as a “by-product” of my current, ongoing Beethoven string quartet review, I listened to roughly 15 minutes of music from the second Vienna School (I played these several times, of course, as I wanted to become — somewhat — familiar / acquainted with this music):

Beethoven/Mozart/Webern, string quartets, Hagen Quartett (2010), CD cover

Beethoven: String Quartet op.59/2; Mozart: String Quartet K.428; Webern: 2 Stücke op.5, 6 Bagatelles op.9

Hagen Quartett

Myrios classics & Deutschlandradio / iTunes download (SACD, stereo 256 kbps); ℗ 2010

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It takes some effort to get “into” this music — Second Vienna School music “of the strict, serial kind” isn’t really my world — but the Hagen Quartett plays this with engagement and technical perfection (as far as I can tell, I don’t have the score), and after several auditions I find these pieces quite interesting! With one exception, the “Bagatellen” op.9 are all less than one minute (4:27 overall), the “Stücke” op.5 are 2 to 4 minutes, except for #3 (0:47), for a total of just over 12 minutes. As I’m not an expert in this field, I’ll refrain from making further comments and ratings, but I should say: if you happen to have this CD, give it a try — it won’t hurt your ears, and it is an interesting experience!

Addendum: On Beethoven’s “Adelaide”, op.46

In response to a different blog post, a friend on FB pointed me to several additional recordings of Beethoven’s “Adelaide” that I referred to above, where I was raving about the recording of that piece with Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen. The additional recordings of that Lied are all found on YouTube:

On the recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Wolfgang Sawallisch

Sawallisch is an excellent musician and a good (quite virtuosic) pianist — but in my opinion he doesn’t stand a chance next to Moore (plus, the sound is rather dull, overall — or is this the Bechstein?). Also, I think that in the Lieder part of that video, Fischer-Dieskau (DFD) had already lost some of his power / capabilities. The first commenter is right insofar as in the “Kindertotenlieder” (towards the end of that program), DFD was substantially younger — and simply better as a singer.

A comparison between Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau / Wolfgang Sawallisch and Fritz Wunderlich / Hubert Giesen

For the very first Lied in the session with Sawallisch, I find Wunderlich / Giesen better (it’s probably the “ideal fit” for Wunderlich, but the pianist may contribute to the difference as well). In general, I find Sawallisch both too coarse and too loud here; he may be attentive as far as phrasing and breathing goes (that’s at least what DFD refers to in the interview), but he would never take himself back a bit, to let the singer prevail — or maybe DFD wasn’t in best shape, and this was all on purpose??? DFD would of course have objected vehemently!

My friend did not agree with my comparison, referring to the above YouTube recording with Wunderlich / Giesen (no longer available, unfortunately), and adding the links to Björling / Ebert, as well as Fischer-Dieskau / Demus; my response: A tough judgement call! To defend my position regarding Wunderlich vs. DFD: of course, I was comparing the DFD YouTube video with the studio recording for Wunderlich, which is somewhat unfair. When listening to the YouTube recordings, though, I understand your reservations about my statement: the Wunderlich video is very dull in the sound.

Jussi Björling / Harry Ebert

And then comes Jussi Björling! Björling most certainly was one of the greatest lyrical voices of the last century — I think one should really leave it at that, as comparing it with DFD or Wunderlich is flawed due to the limitations in the recording technique — but let me still give it a try: There are some “features” in Björling’s interpretations which would now be regarded mannerisms, but his voice definitely great, and the dynamic bandwidth, dramatic span, the spectrum of modulation are broader than Wunderlich’s, and maybe DFD’s as well — but I do have some reservations: for one, it is obvious that he is not native to the German language.

He certainly must have understood the meaning of every word, also the underlying / implicit poetic content — but that does not imply that he can produce the natural German language flow / melody, hence I have some reservations about his interpretation here. As an analogy: I don’t think any non-English actor will ever be able to produce a language flow that one would regard natural for any text by Shakespeare — be it in the (perceived) original or a more modern pronunciation.

On Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Fischer-Dieskau’s particular strength is his intellectual mastering (and vocal reproduction) of the underlying poetic content — and in that he is probably at the very top of the list (though there are now some challengers such as Matthias Goerne and several others — but nobody comes even close in terms of the width of DFD’s repertoire, notwithstanding). And — at least at the height of his abilities, such as in the 50’s – 60’s — DFD’s art of conscious phrasing (i.e., how he can bring a long phrase to a climax through a steady, extremely well-formed, continuous crescendo and decrescendo) is very hard to beat. Björling has a similar — maybe greater — dynamic span, but (IMO) he does not match DFD in this “art of phrasing”.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau vs. Fritz Wunderlich

Sure, in terms of the above “intellectual and conscious, well-formed phrasing” he clearly beats Wunderlich (and this is also reflected in my blog ratings for the Schumann Lieder) — it’s just that in this particular piece Wunderlich can play out what he is best at: his natural, effortless brilliance, the “ping” in his voice (I’m sure you know what I mean) — he does not put much deep meaning into this poem, doesn’t “load” it with content, but merely lets the music shine.

OK, the YouTube video has “tubular audio” at best and may not really bring this out (even though in the recording with DFD it proves that also Jörg Demus was an excellent accompanist, also better than Sawallisch): listening to Wunderlich / Giesen in CD quality may explain better why I like the Wunderlich studio recording.

DFD vs. Other Singers

I typically do prefer DFD over Wunderlich — it’s just for this very song (Adelaide) where I prefer Wunderlich’s approach, even though DFD’s performance is of course very impressive, excellent, etc.; also, in general, I like the intellectual approach more than the folkloristic one (so I prefer DFD over Hermann Prey).

I received another, related pointer to DFD singing Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte”, op.98 with Gerald Moore (recorded 1972): a very nice recording — too bad the sound is mono only!

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