SCHUBERT Winterreise (Fischer-Dieskau and Demus)
This issue in the DG Originals series appeared just in time, appropriately enough, to mark Fischer-Dieskau's 70th birthday at the end of May. It was recorded almost exactly 30 years earlier, at the beginning of May 1965. On the verge of his fifth decade, the singer was in his absolute prime - and it shows. Indeed listening to this interpretation, unavailable for far too long, is like coming home to base after many interesting encounters away from the familiar. In his "Collection" survey of the work in April 1994 RW wrote that this performance "has claim to being the finest of all his versions of the cycle" (a view seconded, I seem to remember, long ago by JBS on BBC Radio 3). I might add that it is possibly the finest of all tout court, certainly matching another favourite version, the 1961 performance with Moore (HMV, 11/63 - nla), in terms of beauty of tone and ease of technique - and how beautiful, how smooth and velvety was the baritone's voice at that time.
That this is the most interior, unadorned and undemonstrative of Fischer-Dieskau's readings perhaps arises from the fact that Demus, a discerning musician and sure accompanist, is the most reflective of all the singer's many partners in the cycle. Demus never strikes out on his own, is always there unobtrusively and subtly supportive, with the right colour and phrasing, literally in hand. Given an intimate, slightly dry recording, finely remastered, the whole effect is of a pair communing with each other and stating the sad, distraught message of Schubert's bleak work in terms of a personal message to the listener in the home.
With this deeply rewarding performance now at mid-price, all other baritone versions are severely challenged. Certainly if you want Fischer-Dieskau in the cycle you need look no further.