SCHUBERT: Lieder – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, baritone/ Gerald Moore & Karl Engel, piano – EMI Classics Signature Series mono/stereo SACD 9 55969 2 (four discs), TT: 174:32 [5/8/12] *****:
This is another in the first of what hopes are many “Signature Series” issues by EMI—the first classical SACD recordings they have released, though the notes seem to indicate that they are concentrating on issues from the 1930s to the 1970s. To clear the air, this is what we have here: four separate former LPs in their original pristine formats, timings exactly as they were years ago, and pictures of the cover artwork front and back as well. These were done when F-D first appeared on the scene, and they are among the finest lieder recordings ever made. I don’t believe they have ever been released in this manner before, though much of what is here has been put out on differing collections. But as is, this is quite a set of jewels.
The four albums serving as exact sources for this collection are A Schubert Lieder Recital (1955), Schubert Lieder Recital No. 2 (1957), Schubert Lieder Recital No. 3 (1959, with Karl Engels, and the only one in stereo here, though the original was also released in mono), and Schubert Lieder No. 4 (1958). According to the notes, original master tapes were used when available—and located wherever they were stored—though some of the earlier recordings were taken directly from the 78s when needed. All were digitized as 96K/24-bit files for SACD release.
The notes also refer to F-D’s late 50s recording as being the height of his vocal prowess, though it must also be admitted that he had a remarkable ability to play to his voice’s ever-changing strengths and weaknesses as he aged, providing us with a very broad range of vocal largesse and greatness for an unprecedented period of time. He knew Schubert better than anyone who ever sang him, authored a book on his lieder, and recorded Die Winterreise seven times, several of which are critically unanimous classics. And we mustn’t overlook the phenomenal Gerald Moore, an accompanist who raised the very stature of the profession to untold heights, and must be given equal credit for the persuasive outcome of all the recordings he partnered F-D with, who even admitted as much throughout his life.
F-D’s way with a line of text is unparalleled in Schubert lieder performance, and to this day, while many may have equaled several of his performances, none has topped them. His position as chief authority of Schubert’s music from performer to musicologist to historian is not likely to be usurped anytime soon. These newly remastered recordings should bring a whole new generation to his side, especially when heard in these magnificent transfers, making even mono truly exceptional in its crystal clarity and flawlessly silent surfaces. These issues are truly a wonder to behold, and that we now hold them is a wonder itself. I am glad EMI has seen the light; hopefully they will leave it on for some time.
Mack Avenue Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a Christian McBride duet album.