This is an interestingly planned recital from one of
today’s foremost vocal artists. The main reason for that interest is
the fact that well over half the disc is devoted to Lortzing, a composer
not generally perceived as one of the ‘greats’. But, as this release
obviously sets out to show, his lighter, comic style was an equally
viable link in the German opera chain from Mozart’s Viennese singspiels
to Wagner’s music dramas of the 1850s. Another point of interest is
Quasthoff’s choice of conductor. Christian Thielemann has had his fair
share of controversy, from lyrical waxing as ‘the new Karajan’, to dismissive
vitriol, particularly regarding his tempi and distorted phrasing. I’m
happy to report that there is very little of that controversy on show
here, and the listener can simply enjoy the qualities that these two
excellent musicians have to offer.
Quasthoff’s estimable credentials as a lieder singer
are amply demonstrated from the outset, and throughout the disc his
attention to the nuances of the words and phrasing are a delight. Thielemann’s
tempi for the Lortzing numbers are brisk and lively, with a no-nonsense
approach that is refreshing. The style of most of these arias could
best be described as late Mozart mixed with a dash of Rossini, but with
a slight undercurrent of German earnestness. Thus, the delightful opening
aria from Zar und Zimmermann (Tsar and Carpenter) shows
Quasthoff investing the character of van Bett with more than just the
obvious buffo traits; the slow section (at around 2.55) has a
wistful quality that is touching, and mention must be made of the superb
partnership between singer and solo bassoon, heard here in perfect unison.
The famous patter song, Fünftausend Taler!, from Der
Wildschütz (The Poacher), is brought off in exemplary fashion,
with no hamming up or playing to the gallery, but a serious attempt
to put the words over, letting the comedy flow naturally as a result.
I particularly like the ‘diddle-dums’, with shades of Beckmesser looming
over the proceedings.
The Weber item, Lysiart’s aria Schweigt, glühnden
Sehnens from Act 2 of Euryanthe, amply demonstrates the dark,
creamy qualities in Quasthoff’s range, and the accompaniment is very
sensitively handled by Thielemann, who is very much on home ground with
the more serious items. The same goes for the most famous item on the
disc, Landgraf’s Evening Hymn from Act 2 of Tannhaüser.
The silky-smooth bass-baritone strikes me as being virtually ideal in
timbre, though Bryn Terfel, on his DG selection with James Levine, invests
the words with slightly more dramatic flair (as you may well expect!).
But this is a satisfyingly viable alternative, strong on poetic feeling
and simple emotion, as is the final item, Morosus’s closing monologue
from Strauss’s rarely revived Die Schweigsame Frau (The Silent Woman).
As the character muses on the subject of life and music, Quasthoff’s
movingly conveys the ageing Strauss’s elegiac tone, while Thielemann
aptly invests the orchestral accompaniment with an almost hymn-like
quality that is very touching.
So, all in all, a success musically. Recording quality
is less than ideal, with a slightly muffled, ill-focused perspective.
It doesn’t help that the voice appears to shift position occasionally
from its central focus; this is only really apparent on headphones,
and is presumably the singer moving around in his chair. It shouldn’t
bother most listeners, and needn’t put you off the disc. Notes are a
little convoluted rather than straightforward and helpful, but full
texts and translations are included. Recommended.