25 May 2012 | TheLittleSongbird
A insightful and incredibly moving tribute to one of the greatest artists of the 20th century...
I have always loved and admired German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and have considered him also an inspiration. And so sorry I was to hear of his death last week, but also grateful for a long career that gave us many treasures instead of an artist who died too young with tragically even more to give(Wunderlich, Bastianini, Warren, I also think Talvela, Caruso and Neri come under this). Fischer-Dieskau may have detractors in some of the roles he did, and while there are some I wasn't so bowled over by him(Iago, Posa, Scarpia), I will always have a fondness for his Count Almaviva(in the Jean Pierre Ponnelle Le Nozze Di Figaro), Dutchman, Wotan, Wozzeck, Gunther and Mandyka.
But it is his Leider and Bach, as well as the Elijah recording that introduced me to him(his rendition of It Is Enough for me is still one of his finest hours) where I consider him unsurpassed. Fischer-Dieskau was a truly remarkable artist, possessing one of the most beautiful voices I've heard and the best musicianship, intelligence and artistry of not just any baritone but of any singer. He is also a very subtle communicator when performing, no exaggerated gestures, but using his eyes and face the whole time. When watching Youtube videos of Kindertotenleider(that always struck me as very personal to him), Schubert's Leider accompanied by Richter, it is hearing his voice, how he uses it and the way he communicates that moves and inspires me listening to or watching him.
And Autumn Journey is as insightful and moving as the career of the great man himself. Beautifully filmed with great archive footage(not just footage his roles in the likes of Don Giovanni, Lear, Falstaff, Le Nozze Di Figaro and Arabella, but also a wonderful Mahler conducting sequence) Autumn Journey is honest from the get go, right from Fischer-Dieskau's youth to his role as voice teacher/coach after his retirement from live performing. Fischer-Dieskau does the talking and does so in an intelligent and tasteful manner, with some humour and sharpness without ever revealing too much. The music is simply amazing, beautiful and powerful often at the same time.
Though it is not just the music, archive footage and Fischer-Dieskau that makes Autumn Journey so good. Contributions from his colleagues proved invaluable, ranging from conductors, pianists and singers. Gerald Moore, Wilhelm Furtwangler and Elisabeth Schwarkopf are especially notable, but that doesn't dispute the likes of Mistlav Roprostopovich, Lisa Della Casa, Georg Solti and Lorin Mazaal either, neither Sviatoslav Richter, Wolfgang Sawallisch or Ferenc Fricsay. I also loved the Un Ballo in Maschera rehearsal with Fischer-Dieskau's wife, soprano Julia Varady with Fischer-Dieskau working from the piano. Bruno Monsaingeon is another reason why the documentary works so well, always keeping things integral and interesting while never trying too hard at the same time.
For other fans, the documentary is fascinating enough, but an extra bonus was the Schubert Recital that he did in his final year of live performing, 1992. For accompanists I do prefer Moore, Richter and even Brendel, but Hartmut Holl still plays sensitively and musically. And Fischer-Dieskau? Truly lovely singing, not his very best, but very expressive and deeply-felt throughout. Overall, I wanted to write this review not only to heartily recommend one of the most fascinating and finest documentaries I've ever seen and the recital that comes with it, but to pay tribute to one of the greatest and most inspirational artists of the 20th century. 10/10 Bethany Cox