This disc isn't for everyone. How could it be? Most people couldn't take it. For some, Tahra's live radio broadcast sound will be too distant and desiccated. For others, Mahler's Kindentotenlieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen cycles will be too emotionally devastating. And for a few, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's performances will be too intensely expressive.
Joining the greatest baritone of the century's canonical recordings of these works with Wilhelm Furtwängler, Rudolf Kempe, Karl Böhm, and Rafael Kubelik are these live recordings with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Otto Ackerman, and Carl Schuricht. To be sure, the sound and accompaniments cannot match the canonical recordings, but Fischer-Dieskau's performances may in some ways exceed even those performances.
That is exactly what makes this disc so hard to take. Mahler's song cycles are among the saddest ever composed, and Fischer-Dieskau's performances are so immensely expressive they are almost impossible to bear. It helps that the German singer's warm tone, molded phrasing, and absolute control were at their peak when these recordings were made between 1954 and 1957. And it helps that the recordings were made at live performances when the singer was energized by the audience's attention. But what really makes these performances so awe-inspiring is the unbearable intensity of Fischer-Dieskau's interpretations. Try making it through the first verse of the first of the Songs on the Death of Children and if you can do so without bursting into tears, you may make it through the rest. But don't count on it. The radio source material is distant and desiccated, true, but Tahra has done everything possible to make it as clean and clear as possible.