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DFD at the Salzburg Festival (Review)

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  • Celia A. Sgroi
    Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC All Rights Reserved The New York Sun August 23, 2005 Tuesday HEADLINE: Once More for Fischer-Dieskau BYLINE: By
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      Copyright 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
      All Rights Reserved
      The New York Sun

      August 23, 2005 Tuesday

      HEADLINE: Once More for Fischer-Dieskau

      BYLINE: By JAY NORDLINGER

      DATELINE: SALZBURG, Austria

      BODY:

      Last May, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau turned 80, and the festival honored
      that milestone with a concert on Friday night. The featured performer?
      Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

      The great baritone had made his Salzburg debut exactly 54 years
      before: on August 19, 1951. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler had
      asked him to sing Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer." Up to his official
      retirement from singing in 1992, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau sang 32 recitals
      in Salzburg, in addition to all the orchestra concerts and opera
      roles. It's fairly safe to say that Mr. Fischer-Dieskau is more
      closely associated with the Salzburg Festival than is any other
      singer. His only rival in this respect may be the soprano Elisabeth
      Schwarzkopf.

      He has not been idle in "retirement," has Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: He
      conducts, he teaches, he writes books. He also performs a good many
      speaking roles, as he did on Friday night. The piece was Schumann's
      "Manfred," a "dramatic poem with music." The text is Byron's,
      translated into German, of course, and fiddled with by the composer
      (who, in effect, acted as dramaturge). "Manfred" is a virtuoso
      opportunity for a speaker, or actor, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau made
      the most of it. He is still the summit.

      Before he took the stage, the bells outside the Felsenreitschule rang,
      as if in celebration. And then he appeared: slightly slow of step, but
      immensely distinguished, and ramrod straight. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau
      seems to have every follicle of hair he ever grew. And he is still
      about the handsomest guy around. The critic sitting next to me broke
      out into a kind of happy laughter. He said, "I never thought I'd see
      him come onstage again." I think a lot of people in the audience felt
      the same way.

      As the music began - the overture is really the only thing we ever
      hear from "Manfred" - the look of concentration on Mr.
      Fischer-Dieskau's face was striking. He seemed to live and feel every
      note, and he also did a little conducting with his head: That must be
      irresistible to him.

      The fabled singer proved himself an amazingly expressive speaker, with
      every word having its proper effect. He riveted everyone in the hall.
      You could have heard a pin drop. Frankly, I found Mr. Fischer-Dieskau
      more emotional - more openly emotional, let's say - than I ever found
      him as a singer. You almost literally rose and fell with him. And I'll
      tell you this, too: I bet he can sing a little, still. You can tell,
      by the sound of that voice, the sight of that posture, the confidence
      and mastery that pour forth from him.

      Leading the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra was Ivor Bolton, the English
      conductor. This orchestra is no threat to the Vienna Philharmonic's
      reputation, but it was adequate. And Mr. Bolton had the sweep of
      "Manfred" in mind, and hand. The Salzburg Bach Choir was helpfully
      sturdy and compact.

      And there are four singing soloists in this piece, all of whom have
      relatively brief parts. The soloist who sings the most is the baritone
      (!), and this was Jan Buchwald, who has a fine instrument, and a good
      sense of musical drama. The orchestra sometimes covered him, but this
      was not ruinous. The young soprano, Nadine Lehner, has a superb
      pedigree: She has studied under Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, Miss Schwarzkopf,
      Julia Varady (Mr. Fischer-Dieskau's wife), Inge Borkh, the late Hans
      Hotter, and Wolfram Rieger. She has a liquid, fast-running voice,
      which she deployed accurately. Dorthe Haring, the mezzo-soprano, was
      lovely and clear. Ferdinand von Bothmer, the tenor, completed this
      worthy quartet.

      After "Manfred" - and before the intermission - a local official
      presented Mr. Fischer-Dieskau with the Golden Honor Award of the
      Province of Salzburg. In doing so, he gave nearly a Castro-length
      speech. Even the decorous Salzburg crowd had trouble sitting still. In
      (finally) accepting, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was economical and gracious -
      his performer's awareness never fails him.

      In the second half of the program, Mr. Bolton and the Mozarteum
      Orchestra offered Schumann's Fourth Symphony. I was not able to stay
      to hear this - but I can tell you a very interesting anecdote. It
      comes from George Sgalitzer, a Seattle doctor who was born in Vienna
      and is the festival's senior patron. He attended the very first
      performance - on August 22, 1920. A 7-year-old, he was brought by his
      grandparents. He has attended every summer since, except for the war
      years. In any case, Dr. Sgalitzer once asked Herbert von Karajan how
      many symphonies he knew by heart. The conductor responded, "One
      hundred and three." Then Dr. Sgalitzer asked which was his favorite.
      And do you know what Karajan said, out of all those symphonies - by
      Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, and the rest? Schumann's Fourth.

      So it's got that going for it.
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