Every week seems to bring us fine new recordings of the great song cycles by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, not to mention Mahler and Wolf. But as the number of recordings grows, we would like to ask a simple question . . .
What are the greatest song cycle recordings of all time?
We will focus on German-language cycles. We know we will delight some of you out there and infuriate others, but we listened to lots of recordings on Classical Archives and here are our picks for the three greatest recordings ever.
Winterreiseby Franz Schubert, performed by baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore. (Deutsche Grammophon, rereleased 2010). Many excellent recordings are available of this cycle of 24 songs, more than one of them by Fischer-Dieskau. But this one, dare we say it, is probably the greatest recording ever made of any song cycle, thanks in large part to the combined geniuses of Fischer-Dieskau and Moore.
Die Schöne Müllerin by Franz Shubert, performed by tenor Fritz Wunderlich and pianist Hubert Giesen. (Deutsche Grammophon, 1966). There are plenty of fine recordings of this cycle, but Wunderlich’s youthful sheen and flawless interpretation make this one of the greatest Lieder performances of all time.
Dichterliebe by Robert Schumann, performed by baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Jörg Demus. (Deutsche Grammophon, recorded 1965). This extraordinary recording, made when Fisher-Dieskau was in full vocal and interpretive mastery, is really the standard by which all other recorded performances of this cycle must be judged. Is it a polished, idiomatic performance? Yes, indeed. But when you listen, be prepared to be deeply moved.