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Few will debate the statement that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925- )
is the most recorded singer of all time. In 2000, the Deutsche
Grammophon label honored his accomplished career with the
release of the “Fischer-Dieskau Edition,” a 20-CD set of this
German baritone’s recordings. Today, we listened to “Songs by
Great Artists-Composers” from this set. It featured original works by
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Emil Nikolaus von Rezniček (1860-1945),
Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991), Adolf Busch
(1891-1952), Bruno Walter (1876-1962), and Enrico Mainardi
(1897-1976).

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recorded these songs in 1959, 1960 and
1964. He was accompanied at the piano by Karl Engel, Günther
Weissenborn,  Jörg Demus and Wilhelm Kempff. With the exceptions
of the pieces by Mahler and Busoni, the works from these composers
provided me with a fascinating foray into obscure lieder repertoire.

The disc begins with a group of songs by Gustav Mahler. Four
out of these five songs were from Mahler’s group of lieder,
“Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” Two of these songs provided templates
for the third movements in both of his “Second” and “Third”
Symphonies. Karl Engel provided the piano accompaniment
for these pieces.

“Vier Bet- Und Bussgesänge,” a group of songs for voice and
piano by Emil Nikolaus von Rezniček, were performed next. They
are best described as reflecting a “post Brahms” compositional
idiom. Günther Weissenborn was the accompanist.

Fischer-Dieskau then sang a fascinating group of “character”
pieces by Ferruccio Busoni. The harmonic settings for these four
songs were unlike any others that I’d heard before.

Pianist Wilhelm Kempff then provided the accompaniment for
his own group of four songs, adding a special element of
authenticity to Fischer-Dieskau’s interpretations.

The following three songs by violinist Adolph Busch added both
piano and viola accompaniments to the vocal line. In my opinion,
these works were the least important ones on this disc, from
a compositional standpoint. Unfortunately, the accompanying
violist was not credited in the liner notes.

The next three songs by conductor Bruno Walter were also not
“ground-breaking” compositions, but they did reflect a different
style, when compared with the other works on this disc.

From a design and harmonic standpoint, the most modern
compositions on this disc were the final two songs by cellist
Enrico Mainardi. They were also the only pieces that were
performed in Italian.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau lavished these songs with exemplary
care, using each one of them as his opportunity to tell a story.
As noted above, these recordings were made between 1959
and 1964, capturing him during his vocal prime. He was also
accompanied by superb instrumentalists throughout his
performances.

The sound engineers at Deutsche Grammophon deserve
praise for these excellent remastered pieces, and this highly
recommended, 20-CD set is difficult to find. If you stumble
across the set, or any individual discs from it, you should
grab them while you can!