Playlist: German baritones

James Jolly Tue 14th February 2017

Inspired by our February-issue interview with Christian Gerhaher, James Jolly explores the great German baritones

We’re celebrating the artistry of baritone Christian Gerhaher this month, so it’s an ideal opportunity to place him alongside some of the finest Lieder singers of the German-speaking world. Gerhaher worked with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a giant among singers in the second half of the last century, and his influence on later generations is immense: it’s most noticeable in the declamatory style he made his own and which his followers generally assimilated without mimicry. Our current Young Artist of the Year, Benjamin Appl (Fischer-Dieskau’s last pupil), reveals a powerful gift for communication which he achieves with a voice that is still gaining strength and power. Andreas Schmidt, his voice slightly darker in timbre than that of his teacher Fischer-Dieskau, savours words in a way that really connects – try his Loewe songs with Cord Garben at the piano for the story-teller’s craft at its finest. Another Fischer-Dieskau pupil, Stephan Genz, uses his ‘mellow’ and ‘companionable’ (Richard Wigmore’s words) baritone to achieve great expression: try his Winterreise with Michel Dalberto, a powerful experience that never resorts to histrionics. Matthias Goerne, possessor of one of the most beautiful baritone voices of recent decades, has followed in the master’s footsteps by recording all the Schubert songs – a fabulous achievement with insights at every turn (try his Winterreise with Eschenbach). And don’t forget Olaf Bär whose Lieder discs from the 1980s and ’90s were characterised by freshness and wonder – his Die schöne Müllerin still captivates. Dietrich Henschel, often compared with Fischer-Dieskau, brings a powerful intelligence to his singing but, in text-focused Lieder like Wolf’s, is very much his own man. But there was a life in Lieder before Fischer-Dieskau – Gerhard Hüsch demands to be listened to, with his focused tone and palpable joy in singing (I love his An die ferne Geliebte). And don’t forget Hermann Prey – again, darker of voice than Fischer-Dieskau, but with a wonderfully flexible instrument and a stage presence that had the audience eating out of his hand: just sample his Cornelius songs…

Listen to the playlist on Qobuz

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