> German Romantic Opera Arias [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
Zar und Zimmermann

O sancta justitia! Ich möchte rasen
Den hohen Herrscher würdig zu empfangen
Sonst spielt ich mit Zepter
Der Wildschütz

Fünftausend Taler! Traum oder wach ich?
Lass er doch hören!
Wie freundlich strahlt die holde Morgensonne

Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Wo berg ich mich? Schweigt, glühnden Sehnens

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Gar viel und schön ward hier in dieser Halle
O du mein holder Abendstern

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Die schweigsame Frau

Wie schön ist doch die Musik

Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone)
Christiane Oelze (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of Deutsche Oper, Berlin
Christian Thielemann
Recorded in the Grosser Saal, Philharmonie, Berlin, September 2000 DDD
DG 471 493-2 [66.35]

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.

Tony Haywood

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