MAHLER: Lieder

Fischer-Dieskau is known for his work with Lieder,
which includes live performances and recordings as a singer, as well as his
teaching, in which he has perpetuated his musicianship to the next
generations of musicians. Barenboim’s work as a conductor, most
recently with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has involved performing as a
pianist. This CD makes available recordings both performers made together in
1978, in which Barenboim accompanied Fischer-Dieskau on 35 of Mahler’s
approximately 50 songs. Included in this two-CD set are the entirety
Mahler’s Lieder und Ges‰nge aus der Jugendzeit, the cycle
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, the set of F¸nf
, and twelve of Mahler’s settings of texts from
Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

While no longer actively performing and recording, Fischer-Dieskau remains
an authoritative voice when it comes to Lieder, and those who wish to grasp
his approach to Mahler’s songs may find an excellent representation in
“Ich ging mit Lust,” one of the Lieder und Ges‰nge aus der
. In this song, Fischer-Dieskau has taken a slightly slower
tempo than some singers use, and this gives him the opportunity to bring out
the melodic line and also to express the nuances of the texts. The diction in
this song and the others in this recording is as clear and idiomatic as
occurs in his recordings of Lieder by Brahms and Strauss. With the tempo
fitting the text so well, Fischer-Dieskau makes the most of genre, which
requires such a mutually expressive approach to exceed the limitations that
occur when poetry is recited or melodies simply played. Likewise,
Fischer-Dieskau brings out elements are sometimes passed over, such as the
braying lines JKJKJKJK that Mahler accentuated more broadly in the later
setting of “Lob des hˆhen Verstandes,” one of the songs in which
he used texts from the anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn. At the same
time, Fischer-Dieskau sensitively allows poetic meter to modify the agogic
accents of the melody in the song “Selbstgef¸hl.” It is this very
sensitivity to the text that makes Fischer-Dieskau’s interpretation of
the third song of the cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen,
“Ich hab’ ein gl¸hend Messer” memorable for the drama and
intensity often approached but rarely executed so well.

Hand in hand with Fischer-Dieskau’s vocal mastery is the expert
pianism of Daniel Barenboim, who added nuance and color to the accompaniment
without either exaggerating anything that is already present in the
composition or adding elements that are not in the scores themselves.
Pianists can take cues from the Lieder that Mahler orchestrated, which is in
itself not only fair, but something that should be expected. In fact, it may
be that knowledge of the orchestral version of such a powerful song as
“Um Mitternacht” forces some pianists to emote unabashedly in
that song, while Barenboim stops short of such overstatement.

Yet such delicacy is also part of Barenboim’s performances of
Mahler’s earlier songs, which convey a freshness that sets this set
apart from others. More than competent, Barenboim has set a standard from
which other performances can take a cue. The sheer energy he exhibits at the
opening of “Scheiden und Meiden” sets the tone for the singer to
use in expressing the opening lines of the text. In other places, Barenboim
defers to the voice by supporting it carefully, such that it is Gestalt of
voice and piano that emerge in this uniformly fine set of recordings.
Barenboim’s talent in the intimate setting of Lieder cannot be
overestimated, particularly with regard to the details that are at the core
of Mahler’s music.

When it comes to the settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, the
versions of the songs with piano accompaniment clearly deserve a place in the
concert repertoire. Mahler intended both scorings for performance, without
one superseding the other. The Orchesterlied was an idiom that Mahler used to
fine effect in his music, yet he was not alone in writing for this genre,
which includes works by Liszt, Wolf, Richard Strauss, and others. In pursuing
works for this idiom, though, Mahler made use of the symphonic aspects of the
orchestral accompaniment to set his scores apart from some of his
contemporaries. While some of the Wunderhornlieder may be perceived
immediately as symphonic because of their connection with his symphonies, the
accompaniments of others contain scorings that resemble some of the passages
in his symphonies. In executing these songs with piano accompaniment, though,
it is too much to ask the pianist to emulate the orchestra, when the purpose
is to support the vocal, which Barenboim does with finesse.

Take, for example, “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,” a
piece that is known in at least contexts by the composer himself – a
song with piano accompaniment, an orchestral Wunderhornlied, and its
adaptation in a symphonic milieu as the Scherzo of Mahler’s Second
Symphony – with a further use of the song by Luciano Berio as part of
his Sinfonia. Given the resonances that come to mind with this song,
Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim deliver the Lied well with piano accompaniment,
with the accompaniment idiomatically pianistic. Barenboim follows the score
and avoids evoking orchestral effects that would, indeed, distract the
listener. Yet in the intimate setting of the piano accompaniment, Fischer
Dieskau treats the setting with subtlety and grace. The assonances that occur
with the verb endings that conclude many lines in the first part of the poem
help to reinforce the images of the various kinds of fish intermingling, as
one word intersects another, yet remains clearly enunciated in
Fischer-Dieskau’s precise phrasing.

Another familiar Wunderhornlied, “Revelge” may be
familiar from Fischer-Dieskau’s earlier recording of the orchestral
version (with Elizabeth Schwarzkopf), and yet the setting with piano
accompaniment remains a convincing and effective performance of the piece.
Sustained in mood, more like a dramatic scene than a typical example of
Lieder, “Revelge” is not an easy song to perform because of the
demands Mahler placed on the singer. In this interpretation Fischer-Dieskau
and Barenboim interact well to create the mood and to draw on the musical and
textual tension that is at the core of this piece. Other examples from this
collection of settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn are also effective
for the masterful approach both musicians took to the music.

Fischer-Dieskau and Barenboim recorded these performances in the
Siemensville Studio, Berlin between 5 and 10 February 1978, a necessarily
brief to capture so much music and, thus, to achieve an interpretive focus.
The recordings were digitally remastered in 2005, thus achieving a good
quality of sound. Nevertheless some aspects of the sound are reproduced here,
which includes a fine sense of the piano and the nuances Barenboim delivers.
At the same time, the placement of the microphone by the voice gives a clear
image of Fischer-Dieskau’s instrument. Yet from time to time the
baritone sound overbalances the ensemble and sounds somewhat forward. It is
never strident, but can be a bit ringing. As with any recordings, though, the
ear can compensate for such unintended results, just as it is able to hear
past the noise and static of inferior recordings, which this is clearly not.
Yet it helps to put the sometimes highly present sound of the voice into the
perspective of the recording and not allow its liveliness to affect the
assessment of the model performance by both musicians. The reissue of this
set of recordings is welcome for making available some fine performances that
continue to merit attention.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin

image_description=Gustav Mahler: Lieder
product_title=Gustav Mahler: Lieder
product_by=Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone; Daniel Barenboim, piano.
product_id=EMI Classics 7243 4 76780 2 [2CDs]