Magazine article The Spectator

The Heckler: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Magazine article The Spectator

The Heckler: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Article excerpt

For anyone who has been interested in classical vocal music since the middle of the last century, whether choral, operatic or solo, there has been one inescapable name and voice: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His repertoire was gigantic, surely larger than that of any singer ever. He began public concerts and recordings in the late 1940s and only gave up in the 1990s, when he took to conducting and narrating, as well as painting, writing a large number of books about German composers (including a ridiculous one on Wagner and Nietzsche) and of course coaching young singers.

Such was his appeal that he not only recorded Schubert's Winterreise several times with Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus, but also with Brendel, Barenboim, Perahia, Pollini, most of them unknown otherwise as accompanists. He even recorded Schumann's Dichterliebe with Horowitz, of all bizarre conjunctions; and recitals with Sviatoslav Richter. His operatic repertoire was large, too, ranging from Don Carlos (in German) in 1948 to most of Verdi's baritone roles, Scarpia, many Wagner roles, up to Reimann's Lear , written for him. He often sang Bach, including an effusive Christus in several recordings of the Matthäus-Passion . If you listen to Radio 3 and a lied is played, the odds are overwhelmingly that it will be F.-D. I read someone the other day stating that 'the art of the lied was revived single-handed by Fischer-Dieskau after the war'.

There have naturally been dissenting voices, perhaps most notably Roland Barthes, but also some German critics, and an occasional admission by admirers that he had a tendency to over-interpret in his later years. But there is a general agreement that he was incomparable for the first three decades of his career. I find, on the contrary, that he exaggerated at least as much when his voice was in its best shape, more in fact, since he could afford to take risks with it. …

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