Music on Radio 3

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The Independent Culture
"XYZ gives a rare interview," you often read - "rare" meaning something like once a month. There are two good reasons for interviewing musicians: if they have specialised knowledge beyond the rest of their kind; or if they are extremely famous and, in truth, rarely interviewed. Even then, the interview will only be interesting if the person asking the questions is very knowledgeable. Vintage Years at lunchtime on Saturday brought a second chance to hear a marvellous interview in which Graham Johnson asked Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau about all the Lieder singers he had heard throughout his life, with recorded examples of complete songs. Here was probably our most profoundly knowledgeable pianist in this repertoire talking to a veritable god among Lieder singers, and it was something you would remember all your life. Fischer-Dieskau was appreciative without false modesty. He opened a window on a past many people wouldn't have known existed. Then it was wonderful to hear him talking about singers who are still very much remembered - for instance, Gerard Souzay, whose first Schubert disc he described as quite perfect and from whom he learnt a lot. Somehow, you expect an artist like Fischer-Dieskau not to have time for any other singer. Quite the contrary, and when he sang with Peter Pears he was happy to take his lead from the higher voice. Because of Hitler, he didn't hear Elisabeth Schumann until the end of her life (she had settled in New York in 1938), when her voice still sounded fresh; she was, said Fischer-Dieskau, virtually the only singer whose every word was crystal clear, even in Schumann's Auftrage. He also said how difficult it was, as a very young German, to sing in certain countries after the war, and told how an admirer in Holland presented him with silver laurels and the message "To the beloved enemy". Evidently, the incident still hurt.

Later the same afternoon, The Sibelius Experience documented the composer's struggle towards the final version of his Fifth Symphony. Framed as a re-enactment of the first performance in 1919, as if being broadcast live, the programme switched to fantasy mode, with the BBC Scottish Symphony, conducted by Osmo Vanska, playing long extracts from both the original 1915 version and the final revision, Geoffrey Baskerville explaining the differences, and Tom Fleming reading from Sibelius's letters and diary entries. Fleming sounded rather like John Gielgud acting King Lear - Sibelius was only 50-plus at the time, though a recording of his own voice sounded prematurely aged. Fleming must have taken his cue from those well-known photos of Sibelius - a head hewn from granite, pondering the darkness of existence. When a CD of the symphony's first version appeared not very long ago, critics wise after the event compared it unfavourably with the revision. But since the latter must be grafted deep on their memory by now, how can they judge any alternative so quickly? Sibelius did let drop that he wanted to give the music "a more human form", which might be interpreted as more picturesque and more obvious. If its inexorable sense of purpose has come to seem a bit well-worn, it could be time to give the first version a few triesn Adrian Jack