Zum Liederabend am 18. März 1988 in New Yyork

     The New York Times, 20. März 1988   
Late City Final Edition  

Fischer-Dieskau Returns to New York Stage


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who had not sung in America since 1980, returned to Carnegie Hall Friday night to sing Mahler's ''Kindertotenlieder'' with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. It was easy for him to renew his bond of communication with this public. Oboe and horn played their brief opening lament; the baritone entered with a quiet reflection that the sun would rise again as though no sorrow had befallen in the night, and instantly we were all in the world of Mahler and Ruckert (the poet) and their close examination of grief. It was as though no time had passed, since listening to Mr. Fischer-Dieskau is a sharp kind of listening that does not go fuzzy in memory. After long years of hard use, the voice still has the range, flexibility and projection it always had. Where change has come is in the sound of the loud notes, which now tend to be hard and dry. But the quiet singing had all its old intensity and much of its beauty. In it, one noted especially the intonation: Not just a matter of singing in tune, but of pitching a note just where it will blend beautifully with an orchestral instrument or fit the character of the chord.

Mahler insists on showing openly the pain that beauty in other music might assuage or idealize. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau is a little like this as a singer; he will not allow the sentiments of a song to be taken nominally. The ''Kindertotenlieder'' are about the death of children, and Mr. Fischer-Dieskau makes us imagine afresh the most heart-rending images: the eyes straying down when the mother comes into the room, to see around her knees the little ones who are not there; the hopeless comfort of imagining that they have only gone out and will soon come home.

We hear and see that the singer undergoes his response to these images anew as he sings the songs. Friday, he swerved to and fro, looked up and down, creased his brow in pain as the music rose and fell. Singers who emulate this kind of letting-go without the discipline and concentration behind it become alienating; singers who merely affect it are repulsive; but with Mr. Fischer-Dieskau we only look deeper and listen harder, as he has done.

The conductor Giuseppe Sinopoli proved an excellent partner. He asked for really hushed playing to accompany the mezza voce lines, where many conductors might have been content with a more-or-less sort of softness, and in his rhythmic manipulations he seemed most of the time to be feeling the music in concert with Mr. Fischer-Dieskau.

The program began with an aggressive ''Meistersinger'' overture. The risers that put brass and percussion high above the strings are not a solution for Carnegie's acoustical problems. The timpani were unpleasantly prominent, and the strands of polyphony entrusted to the strings were consistently subdued.

After intermission came Schumann's Second Symphony, which suffered from some of the same characteristics but also had a driving kind of buoyancy. The scherzo was too fast for the Philharmonia's players to retain full technical command; the slow movement was not very natural or flowing in its motion. But the big first movement was a success, with its measured opening and strong propulsion toward the end.

Will Crutchfield

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