As I’ve written previously, I have a host of memories from undergraduate studies wrapped up in choral and sacred music. One additional revelation that I took away from those years was the talent and phenomenal voice of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012), to whose incomparable baritone voice I was introduced by a friend who was a huge fan.
Fischer-Dieskau sang an incredible array of repertoire during his long career (see Wikipedia for a summary of his life and career; he also wrote an autobiography that’s worth finding), and I first heard him in recordings of Schubert’s song cycles, notably “Winterreise” and “Die schöne Müllerin,” both with the equally wondrous Gerald Moore on piano. Listen to this selection from “Winterreise” for an example of what I mean.
Since we began rescuing vinyl, I’ve deliberately searched for any of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s work and I’ve managed to find a number of terrific LPs. But I was particularly thrilled (to the point of doing a little bunny hop) to find a recording in a thrift store last weekend of several pieces from Dvořák’s Op. 99 cycle of Biblical Songs by the master himself, with Jörg Demus (another fabulous pianist who, along with Gerald Moore, helped to raise the bar of appreciation for accompanists). This is a work that I learned – parts of it, anyway – in college, and one that I’ve long loved… and to find it sung by Fischer-Dieskau – it was definitely coming home with me.
Cranking this album up on Easter felt uniquely appropriate – and so it is. The work consists of ten songs (only six of which are included here, sadly – but better than none!), settings of several Psalms composed in 1894. This particular album, which appears to be a reprint of an album originally on Deutsche Grammophon, seems to have been released first in 1960.
The Psalms, unlike any other part of Hebrew or Christian scripture, are uniquely emotive of such a range of the human experience, and Dvořák – as a composer firmly rooted in romanticism – milks that (in the best way) for all it’s worth. Couple that with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s beautiful singing – which, in 1960, would have been at the height of his abilities – and I’ve been in a transcendent space all morning… and isn’t that what great albums do – put us into a different space? Even if you don’t observe Easter, this is a gorgeous recording well worth your time. (If you can’t find the LP, the recordings are available packaged with Dvořák’s Requiem on several DG compact disc re-releases.)