Zum Liederabend am 17. August 1969 in London


The Times, London, 18. August 1969

Winterreise rich in expressive detail

South Bank Summer Music started last night, with - a nice touch - A Winter Journey: Schubertís, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, with Daniel Barenboim (who, as last year, has acted as artistic counsellor for the season). A fine start to the season, with the Festival Hall filled to capacity; and of course the most polished and penetrating music-making.

Yet it was not, to judge by the supremely high standards suitable to such artists, quite the performance one hoped for, at the start especially. In the first half of the cycle it sometimes seemed hard to relate Mr. Fischer-Dieskauís expression to the notes on the page; to the words, perhaps, but not to the notes. By which I mean that he often gave special expressive emphasis to a word here, a phrase there, that lent it a colour apt to itself but failing to make sense in the wider musical context. To do this can lead to a vitiation of the musical line and a presentation of a song as a series of interlinked verbal events. It did not go that far, but it was certainly a matter of prima le parole, dopo la musica.

And the colours were extreme ones: Mr. Fischer-Dieskau readily uses the full weight of his fortissimo, the delicate whisper of his pianissimo. Mr. Barenboim, though properly operating within narrower dynamic limits, also seemed too inclined to stress points of detail; each telling harmonic twist was carefully timed to make it tell the more. Many of the preludes and postludes were beautifully, very musically done. Yet one rarely sensed that he was giving real support to Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, helping him as a lieder pianist should to mould the music while keeping its rhythms taut.

The second half went better. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau shaped "Die Post" in his old unselfconscious manner (no special words to illustrate here); "Letzte Hoffnung" too was finely sung, its change of mood conveyed simply and musically. "Der Wegweiser" was steady and reflective, its ending shaped to perfection. "Das Wirtshaus" seemed impossibly slow. But the bleak, black despair of the final songs came powerfully across.

Stanley Sadie


   

     The Guardian, London, 18. August 1969     

   

Festival Hall

Fischer-Dieskau

    

Until the end of the month the concert halls on the south side of the river are providing yet another festival of recitals and concerts: a programme as before called "South Bank Summer Music." The leading spirit is Daniel Barenboim who played last night the piano part of Schubertís "The Journey In Winter" to the truly awesome interpretation of the baritone Fischer-Dieskau. The cycle of songs, distilling some of the most desolate of musical poetry, was given uninterrupted by applause or interval in 90 minutes with a packed Festival Hall sitting in pin-drop silence of attention.

It is difficult to think of any other singer who has the sheer technical command to achieve such a dimension of dynamics and expression for these haunting songs. The dramatic colour in the enunciation of the words, the length and security of the phrasing, with the voice riding untroubled at every volume or pitch and the music shaped to perfection, are things of wonder in themselves. His long breath and seamless legato enable him to dare a slowness of tempo and a relaxed, even slightly wayward cantabile which would defeat most people who attempted it. Such songs as "The Crow", "The Signpost," and "The Inn" could hardly be made more expressive.

If I had a doubt, it is that somehow spontaneous lyrical joy - not a feature of the cycle as a whole - fails to make its rare but important effect. A song like "The Post" for instance just missed this ecstatic excitement. Too much selfquestioning? Too studied an effect? Mr. Barenboimís accompanying was finely judged and sensitive but again, studied to the point where it seemed almost like mannerism: the postludes, the echoes of the singerís plaints were self-consciously soulful, in a way more fitted to Beethovenís last piano sonatas. Better too much reverence than too little. But without being glib there is a way of touching Schubertís reprises without calling so much attention to them. I sound impatient. Not so. The performance fell like a benediction on the ear. The storm of applause at the end after the whispered song about the old organ grinder seemed wrong even if richly deserved. We ought to have melted away in silence.

Philip Hope-Wallace


   

     Daily Express, London, 18. August 1969     

   

Schubert lacked support

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Royal Festival Hall

    

A fortnight of rival concerts to the Proms, under the title of "South Bank Summer Music," began last night.

Most are at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but the Spanish dancersí night off in the larger hall meant that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau could inaugurate the series there.

The German baritone sang the 24 songs of Schubertís "Winter Journey" with the breadth of character and intensity of feeling that are his hallmark.

But their tragic impact - narrating the bleak despair and ultimate madness of a romantic drop-out - was seriously weakened by the finicky pianoplaying of Daniel Barenboim.

His approach was on a different, smaller scale than that of the singer. He constantly pecked at the notes - some of which could not be heard halfway back in the audience - and there was seldom any spring in his rhythm.

He found practically none of the subtlety that lies beneath the surface of Schubertís apparent simplicity, so that the baritone often sounded inadequately supported.

Fischer-Dieskau occasionally laboured his phrasing too emphatically, but this would have been less apparent with a more perceptive piano partnership.

Noel Goodwin


   

     Daily Telegraph, London, 18. August 1969     

   

Weekend Concerts

Barenboim isolates Fischer-Dieskau

     

In retrospect Dietrich Fischer-Dieskauís and Daniel Barenboimís "Winterreise" at the Festival Hall last night seem one great stillness and icy silence, all "Frozen Fears" and "Numbness." This is as it should be, most people would feel and, apparently, did, to judge by the enthusiastic reception they accorded to these outstanding artists.

How then can I account for my undeniable lack of contentment? Partly the reasons were acoustical. There is this singerís tendency to favour certain endconsonants at the expense of vowels, abandoned prematurely.

In the first line of "Erstarrung" for example, "Ich such im Schnee vergebens," the tune did not really start until after the first two notes.

The pianist, on the other hand, starved his tone, hardly ever allowing it to rise above mezza piano, not even at the anguished syncopations of "Die Kršheís" climax.

Such a policy of self-effacement was, no doubt, deliberate and very honourable it is on the part of a celebrated soloist. Yet it militated against the necessary impression of concerted chamber music and most of the time the voice sounded unsupported, isolated, left to fend for itself.

*

A unique voice, to be sure, and superbly controlled. Oneís sense of deprivation was confirmed and sharpened whenever Mr. Fischer-Dieskau felt free to surrender to the melody.

We paid the price for the supreme intelligence and sophistication of an artist who is too terrified of naivetť and sentimentality to rely in this day and age on feeling as well as on thought.

Peter Stadlen


   

     Financial Times, London, 18. August 1969     

    

Festival Hall

Winterreise

    

South Bank Summer Music is with us again: a series of 15 concerts from now until the end of the month, as last year supervised by Daniel Barenboim, but this year with a distinct theme, the chamber music of Schoenberg. The first of the series, however, was devoted last night to Schubertís Winterreise, sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Barenboim.

Winterreise is one of the greatest tragic works in all musical literature. It is a unique tragedy which only its musical sound can encompass or describe: 24 songs which tell of a misery so intense, so delicate, and so withdrawn that any descriptive word - even one which vibrates in tune - can only seem an inadequate and vulgar gloss. How then to convey in words the ways in which this very fine performance ultimately failed to convince?

To begin with, Barenboim never (except in one or two songs) entirely successfully struck the very difficult balance between reticence and dominance. In Winterreise, the piano accompaniment carries the story forward, like life itself; the voice, the person, is the meaning of the story. The moving current of the piano must never subside; yet it must not indulge too much in expressive device, for it is, in a sense, impersonal, both part of the texture and at the same time outside it, a divided observer. At the beginning of the cycle Barenboim underplayed his part, hesitating to establish his role. "Gute Nacht" emerged oddly quiet, faltering almost in its shyness, from his fingers; and again in "Die Post" his manner was somehow reserved, colourless, incomplete.

Yet much of his playing was also extremely beautiful. "Das Wirtshaus," taken very slowly, might have been made expressly for him: an unearthly peace that rises to two climaxes echoing into the distance of the music. And "Die Kršhe," too, was superbly managed and shaped. But Fischer-Dieskau, one felt, needed an accompaniment with more overall momentum and a keener, tenser edge. His singing - though always marvellously assured, and sometimes, as in "Einsamkeit" and "Das Wirtshaus," as near perfection as one could wish - might have gained in buoyancy and intensity, if it had been keyed by something consistently subtler, sharper, and more finely judged.

Dominic Gill

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