Zum Liederabend am 21. August 1969 in London
Financial Times, 22. August 1969
This duet recital by Janet Baker and Fischer-Dieskau, with Barenboim at the piano, was acclaimed last night by a packed hall. It will be repeated on Saturday. They started with Purcell, but for the rest depended on the German romantics. A whole evening of duets might appear (Purcell excepted) to threaten an orgy of domestic sentiment. But by clever planning, monotony has been avoided.
Schumann, Mendelssohn, Cornelius, Brahms - who would have thought they would produce such variety in a form with such limitations. In the five Schumann duets we heard his lyrical impulse is almost as strong as in the solo songs. Three of them, "Er und Sie," "Ich bin dein Baum" and "Herbstlied," have the kind of wondering rapt opening phrase with which he leads one straight to the heart of a song or piano piece.
Brahms, in such a duet as "Die Nonne und der Ritter," in his dark, bodeful mood, also keeps his personality intact. The Cornelius group, with the exception of the dull, posthumous, "Verratene Liebe," proved very attractive, with a most individual setting of "Come away, death." Only Mendelssohn came out rather weakly, tied as it were to the family circle, for all his charm and fluency.
The singing had a vigour and gusto difficult to resist, strong, firm lines in Brahms, delicate shading in Schumann and Cornelius, intelligence in Purcell (though Fischer-Dieskau sang his part in "Sound the trumpet" archly, as if it were a comic song). But as well, some loud singing that was nearly rough, and too little of the mezza voce both these splendid artists can manage so well. Signs, in fact, that in purely vocal terms the duo hasnít quite settled down. Or were they too consciously determined to show us that duets arenít merely pretty little things?
At first Barenboim accompanied rather as though he meant only the singer to hear him, pecking at the notes. Then he began to broaden out till he was playing finely in Cornelius and Brahms, brilliantly in the formerís featherlight "Der beste Liebesbrief." In Brahmsís "Die Nonne und der Ritter " there is a striking passage for the piano which he rightly related to the world of the concertos.
Daily Telegraph, 22. August 1969
There was an air of excitement at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night as a large audience assembled for the recital of vocal duets by Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Daniel Barenboim.
Probably few people in the hall were acquainted with the five examples by Schumann or the four (Op. 28) by Brahms, but it is likely that many had heard Mendelssohnís duets in their youth.
So we were grateful to the artists for uncovering a type of domestic music that did not survive the rapid development of radio and gramophone soon after the 1914-18 war; grateful, too, for Mr Fischer-Dieskauís understanding of the Purcell style in the five Purcell duets that began the concert.
He and Miss Baker showed how greatly that masterís music is enhanced by splendid voices. "Sound the trumpet" from Queen Maryís birthday ode, 1694, was a stirring call to jubilation, and the unwavering sostenuto and control of dynamics made a performance that would have been almost perfect with more tone from the piano.
In the Schumann duets, so happily following the Purcell, Mr Barenboimís playing was muted when it should have given clear support to the singers who contrived by a light touch to make "Er und Sie" and "Ich bin dein Baum" ardent rather than cosy and who realised with restraint the touching simplicity of the "Lullaby for a Sick Child."
Cornelius, surviving in this country through his Christmas songs and the haunting "Ein Ton," proved inferior in such company in spite of the easy charm of "Heimat Gedanken."
Miss Baker held us spellbound in the powerful "Die Nonne und der Ritter" of the Brahms group by her wonderfully disembodied tone and spirituality.-
The Guardian, 22. August 1969
Inventing ideal casts for operas and concerts has long been a favourite game of record-collectors. Sometimes these days the record companies themselves play it, providing combinations of artists that would be impossible in live performance. And sometimes - r a r e s t experience of all - you get the imagined ideal actually realised in concert form. So it was in the South Bank Summer Music concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, when for duets by Purcell, Schumann, Cornelius, Mendelssohn and Brahms we had the rare linking of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Janet Baker, accompanied by an artist of equal stature, Daniel Barenboim.
You could see well ahead that someone had been playing the ideal cast game shrewdly: the danger then was that we would all expect too much. Would Janet Baker, most searchingly communicative of British lieder-singers as she is, be able to match a partner who stands, a German born, peerless in this field? Would Barenboim try to dominate from the piano? The Purcell duets which started the concert were plainly not the pieces to judge by. Here it was Baker not Dieskau who had the language advantage, and in any case the arranged accompaniments give no chance to the pianist. One feared that for all Bakerís tonal contrasts her voice would not bloom as it can, with so vast an audience perceptibly drying the acoustic.
One had to wait no further than Bakerís entry in the first Schumann duet, "Er und Sie" (He and She) to realise that any fears were groundless. After Dieskauís lightheartedly confident first solo, Baker responded with feminine guile, easing into her phrase: "If I go to my window when the stars are shining, I gaze at only one."
In Mendelssohn and Cornelius there was no longer any need for anyone to worry, least of all the artists. Both singers relaxed to the light, leaping rhythms of duets once sung in Victorian drawing-rooms. In "Suleika und Hatem" (labelled "Mendelssohn" but in fact by his sister Fanny) we had again the truest contrast of male and female temperament, Bakerís yearning phrase "Bleibe, bleibe" matched by Dieskauís lithe sprung rhythms in his following phrase about leaping waters.
If there was any disappointment at all it lay in the comparative reticence of Barenboim. He was always there with an imaginative comment, an intense concluding whisper in a Schumann postlude, but for once in sheer volume the piano was too subdued. Maybe he will be more daring when this delectable programme is repeated tomorrow.
Daily Express, 22. August 1969
The perfect blend
Duet concert: Queen Elizabeth Hall
Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau struck up a duet partnership last night, for the first time in their careers, as the basis of a programme they will repeat in the same hall tomorrow.
They achieved a level of superb intimate-style musicianship in a programme that ranged from Purcell to Brahms and took in unfamiliar songs by Mendelssohn and Cornelius on the way.
Even though the two singers have very different individual styles, they blended their voices expressively with each other.
Frank Granville Barker