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Betrachte, meine Seel – Thomas Quasthoff
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750)
Weihnachtsoratorium, BWV 248
1. Aria: Grosser Herr, o starker König [4:45];
2. Duetto: Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen [7:34];
Johannes-Passion, BWV 245
3. Arioso: Betrachte, meine Seel [2:31];
4. Aria and Choral: Mein teurer Heiland, lass dich fragen – Jesu, der du warest tot [4:08];
Matthäus-Passion, BWV 244
5. Aria: Mache dich, mein Herze, rein [6:19];
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
Messiah HMV 56
6. Accompagnato: Behold, I tell you a mystery – Aria: The trumpet shall sound [9:17];
Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Die Jahreszeiten
7. Recitativo: Vom Widder strahlet jetzt – Aria: Schon eilet froh der Ackersmann [4:25];
8. Aria and Recitativo: Erblicke hier, betörter Mensch – Die bleibt allein und leitet uns [4:42];
Die Schöpfung
9. Recitativo: Und Gott sprach – Aria: Rollend in schäumenden Wellen [4:50];
Elias, Op. 70
10. Aria: Herr Gott Abrahams [3:28];
11. Aria: Es ist genug! [5:15];
Paulus, Op. 36
12. Aria: Gott, sei mir gnädig [5:38];
13. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (arr. Meyer)
Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone), Sibylla Rubens (soprano) (2), Markus Schmutzler (trumpet) (1, 6), Andreas Lorenz, Bernhard Mühlbach (oboe d’amore) (2), Jürg Kettmann, Ulrich Scobel (viola d’amore), Stefan Maass (lute) (3); Staatsopernchor Dresden, Staatskapelle Dresden/Sebastian Weigle
rec. Palais im Grossen Garten, Dresden, June 2006
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 6230 [66:10]

Thomas Quasthoff has reached a position as one of the leading concert and lieder singers of his generation. He has also recorded opera arias. Recently he took part in a Mozart disc with, among others, Anna Netrebko (see review). First and foremost, however, he is a brilliant lieder artist and his care for the texts, his exquisite shadings and nuances are in evidence throughout this disc of sacred arias from the German 18th century tradition. Rarely have many of these been delivered with such insight. The singer that immediately springs to mind is Peter Schreier. I know, Schreier is a tenor, but imagine his voice a fourth lower and voilá, there is Quasthoff. Besides all the well-known characteristics of Schreier’s interpretative talent, there is also, in many instances, a close similarity in the actual voice quality. Neither of them has the most ingratiating of sounds, sometimes there can be a certain dryness but both have the ability to scale down the voice to ravishing pianissimos and inflect a phrase so memorably. One hears over and over again both intelligence and identification with the texts. Moreover Quasthoff, whose bass-baritone normally is more baritone than bass, can deliver brilliant and impressively ringing fortes. He also has the black low notes when needed.
He is at his best in the classicist and romantic arias of Haydn and Mendelssohn, where his expressive handling of the contrasting emotions really go to the heart of the music. His Bach singing is technically beyond reproach and he imbues the words with meaning but I can’t help observing a certain uniformity in the singing. Perhaps Bach is more to blame than Quasthoff. He is joined by soprano Sibylla Rubens in the duet Herr, dein Mitleid (tr. 2) whose bright voice contrasts sharply with Quasthoff’s darker sounds. There are also some excellent instrumental solos in the Bach arias, most prominent Markus Schmutzler’s fluent trumpet in Grosser Herr (tr. 1). He is also an impressive partner to Quasthoff in the aria from Messiah (tr. 6), which offers some of the most powerful singing on the whole disc.
He is lighter of voice than many Simons in Die Jahreszeiten, but this is not at all unbecoming. His Schon eilet froh der Ackersmann – the aria that quotes the slow movement from Symphony No. 94 – is lively and spirited, whereas Erblicke hier, betörter Mensch is sung with compassion for “the misguided man”.
Best of all are the Mendelssohn arias. For the beautiful and noble Herr Gott Abraham Quasthoff lightens the voice to remove all signs of superiority. This Elias is the benign servant, while in Es ist genug the voice is full of pain – but also self-esteem.
As a bonus he gives us an inward and nuanced version of the spiritual Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, the text of which is not printed in the booklet. The woirds of all the other arias are supplied. There is also a good note on the music by the assiduous Nick Kimberley, who quotes Quasthoff as saying: “We chose pieces which allow me to give voice to what I consider important in singing: colours, expression, beauty. But I wouldn’t describe myself as a singer for whom beauty counts above all else. For me the most important thing is the symbiosis between text and music.” This is expertly demonstrated on this well produced disc, where the Dresden chorus and orchestra perform well under the baton of Sebastian Weigle, who is rapidly becoming a frequent recording conductor.
Göran Forsling


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