Which singer has a legendary voice?

The legendary first radio recording with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was 46 years ago: Beginning of a winter trip


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The special charm of Fischer-Dieskau's very first "Winterreise" lies in the beguiling smoothness of his uneducated young Werther voice - but above all in the naivety of a singer who is visibly intoxicated by the sound of this voice himself or, to put it in yesterday's buzzword (which was of course not yet modern at the time) to say even more aptly: he is affected by his own concern. This can be heard well, for example, in the fourth piece ("Rigor"), whose wild triplet hunt is taken by Billing according to the old rule "not too fast"; It is an irregular stanza song like so many Schubert songs, and Fischer-Dieskau sings this great arc of melody, which seems to flow on and on from one verse to the next, and at the same time fills and bursts the traditional song stanza form, in a single swing as there would be neither pauses nor structuring nor reflection; but just this wild outburst of a madman who wants to kiss the ground, penetrate ice and snow and yet already knows that he is alone and that everything is in vain anyway: "If my heart melts again, your image is gone too." Your picture: This is repeated twice, the third time finally given an extremely greasy accent: an exaggerated ritardando, applied a bit too thick, the long suggestion, if so: this is also the stopping point, the infinite melody ends here, and "her picture" has the last word.

Sobbing deeply, the singer has to take a breath. What he still lacks in technology, he sings back twice through unconditional devotion to words and music. His diction is clear, you can understand every syllable. His intonation is dreamlike sure. He adheres meticulously to the musical text, even if in the heat of the moment he does not always exactly follow the prescribed word ("your picture stares coldly at it"). But some vocal mannerisms, which later become the trademark of his singing style, are already announced here: the howling ties (especially downwards), the idiosyncratic and unmediated rubati, the sudden forte barking on parts of the text that were found to be particularly important.

What is enchanting about this young, miraculous voice is the effortless change of registers: It is not a large, but consistently balanced voice that still has chest resonance in the high and lyrically light flowing in the low. In "Lindenbaum" she easily puts on the dangerously high e from above, without falsetting or artificially pimping the tone with a touch of h, an effective extreme piano approach and the like (as he did more and more often later and as other great colleagues have done have to, for example Richard Tauber). The "Lindenbaum" by the way, which appears as the first major song in the gloomy "Winterreise" like a comforting light from afar ("a bright, warm house, and a dear soul in it", as it later says in the song "Deception") - This "Lindenbaum", sung far too often and heard to death, is, next to the first and very longest song "Gute Nacht", the real touchstone for the rest of the "Winterreise", if not for the Schubert song at all.

It is a pseudo folk song that pretends to have been in the public domain from ancient times. It is friendly and childlike-naive, but becomes brutal, sweeps the singer's hat off the head and then at the end calls for the first time death by name, which will be the goal and end purpose of this dark journey. Anyone who knows how to sing this refined "linden tree" so casually as if he had heard and sung it thousands of times - but at the same time so directly from the heart, as if he were inventing word and tone himself at the moment: he has won. Almost all singers know about this second naivety that is necessary to sing Schubert songs properly. Everyone strives for it too. Unfortunately, however, you usually hear the effort - and only as far as individual songs from the "Schwanengesang" are concerned, such as "Die Schöne Müllerin", the squaring of the circle has actually been completely successful for a few: the divine Wunderlich before all the others; and recently again a young tenor: Christoph Pregardien.

The "Winterreise", of course, belongs in the shady baritone category (all tenor, bass or female vocal attempts that have been made with it are unsatisfactory). In "Winterreise", unlike in "Schönen Müllerin", a story is not told that has a beginning and an end. Which also happens to someone else whom the singer, despite all the identification necessary to sing, can at least keep his distance. The "Winterreise" begins with the end of the song: "Gute Nacht" - and it deals with nothing but archaic needs: fear of life and death, loss and the secret masochistic pleasure in loss. The images that appear in text and music are child's play to grasp and all the more difficult to bear. There is no longer any simple symbolism of nature as in "Schöne Müllerin" - here there are picture puzzles: "The Crow" promises loyalty to the grave (and flutters away in piano replay); the "courage" jumps on the singer in a flash in the envelope from minor to major ("I shake it down!") and leaves him again just as quickly. That should be put forward simply and poignantly, including all private and political implications: intimate confessions that concern everyone. The young Fischer-Dieskau started the "Winterreise" in exactly the same way, and it was almost as successful for him.

Later he sang this cycle of songs more often and in a different way: fuller, more controlled and more balanced in his voice, more reflective in his interpretation, the beginners' mistakes ironed out, with more sophistication and sometimes with far better accompaniments. But the innocence of the first hour and the special historical situation was unrepeatable gone. Fischer-Dieskau recorded "Winterreise" a total of ten times for the record alone, with eight different pianists - as if there was something to prove or to conquer. Three times with Moore, once with Brendel, once with Barenboim and with Demus, and also with Billing, Klust, Reutter and Perahia. A unique obsession: no singer has ever been so obsessed with this work.

In general, the custom of giving pure song recitals with complete song cycles is quite new. At the turn of the century, concerts were still singing a colorful mix of programs. When Tauber performed half the "Winterreise" in a row in 1927, it was already a risk when Hüsch recorded the whole thing in London in 1932: a real sensation. Heinrich Schlusnus only sang this Schubert cycle in public once in its entirety, and Gerard Souzay, of whom three recordings are available, modestly admitted that it took him ten years to master the "Winterreise" only to find out that even twenty would not have been enough. Fischer-Dieskau, on the other hand, the obsessed, has (if one can believe the information of his first biographer and unconditional admirer Kenneth S. Whitton) already selected the "Winterreise" as a program for his very first full-length concert, which he performed on January 31, 1942 in Zehlendorfer parish hall in front of 150 listeners - as a sixteen-year-old high school student. It is a shame that there is no tinned product. As the singer recalls, it should have sounded "quite sentimental and languishing".