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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Mozart: Symphony no. 31; Serenade no. 6; Arias, Overtures and Incidental Music: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra dir. Gottfried von der Goltz: Thomas Quasthoff, Barbican Hall, Friday 11th March 2005 (ME)


The series title of ‘Great Performers’ refers in this case to the evening’s soloist, who performed five arias interspersed with orchestral pieces: to my surprise the hall was by no means full, despite discreet ‘papering’ and intensive advertising, but those ‘in attendance’ (and I use that phrase in its exact meaning, as at a ceremony) were there for one purpose only, which was to adore the person of the soloist, who quite frankly could have sung the day’s proceedings from Hansard for all that most of them would have cared. The applause at the end of the Symphony’s first movement, I feel, revealed a lot.


The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is one of the best established Baroque groups around: although it is frequently directed by eminent guest conductors it is best known for its tradition of direction from the first desk, one presently occupied by Gottfried von der Goltz. It can’t have been easy for him to ‘accompany’ Quasthoff but, true to form, he was by no means a servile director, rather a dynamic collaborator with his musicians, who delivered playing of unusual verve and style. The overture to ‘Don Giovanni’ was as darkly dramatic as could be desired, and was followed by the ‘catalogue’ aria from the same opera, characterfully sung if not quite full enough in tone at times: I was quite taken aback when instead of singing that Giovanni’s preference was for innocents, Quasthoff instead sang that it was his – and there was no putting this down to a verbal slip, it was absolutely emphatic: checking with the programme, I found that although the translation was faithful to the original sense – ‘his major passion…’ surprisingly, the ‘original’ text was written as ‘Ma passion predominante.’ It’s impossible to imagine that this could ever be correct in context – maybe I’m lacking in some esoteric knowledge here or over-reacting but this is something I’ve never come across before – verbal slips, yes, programme glitches, yes, but not the two together on the same line. Naturally, it made no difference to the audience.


Two pieces of ‘incidental’ music, the Act 3 March from ‘Idomeneo’ which was finely done, accurately reflecting the composer’s marking of ‘sempre sotto voce,’ and the ‘entr’acte’ from ‘King Thamos,’ the perfect rumbustious contrast, framed Quasthoff’s performance of ‘Così Dunque tradisci…Aspri rimorsi atroci’ in which he showed his exceptionally wide range, the bitter F minor aria positively cutting in its fury until the desolate ending.


The ‘Paris’ Symphony began the second half, the lovely Andante being given with special verve, and the Allegro assai displaying the brilliance with which Mozart had aimed to impress the Parisians. The wonderful ‘Per questa bella mano’ followed, dryly introduced by Quasthoff with a little tale accounting for the fantastic virtuoso quality of the obbligato double – bass: the original player of the work, Friedrich Pischelberger, apparently ‘had an eye for the little wife of Mozart’ and so the composer made the piece almost impossible to play so as to give him plenty to do with his hands. Whether or not this tale is true, this evening’s double-bassist, the superb Love Persson, played it with the kind of skill and panache which makes you want to stand up and cheer, and Quasthoff’s singing of the lines composed for the original Sarastro again showed off his wide range and shapely phrasing.


I was less impressed with ‘Mentre ti lascio, o figlia’ but the best was yet to come, in the unscheduled performance of ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’ - Quasthoff’s must be the finest Sarastro around, and one could hardly help recalling the weakness of the present incumbent of the role at the ROH, whose dry, dull singing fails to fill the part just as Quasthoff gives it point in every phrase, the noble, expansive lines never simply crooned but with each phrase given its proper weight, ‘ein mensch zu sein’ perfectly crowned with a securely placed low D. The ‘Great Performers’ series can tend towards the fragmented in its programming and quality, but this kind of singing dispels any doubts about the virtue of ‘celebrity’ recitals.


Melanie Eskenazi



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)