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Schumann & Brahms; Thomas Quasthoff & Justus Zeyen

Robert Schumann: Liederkreis Op. 24 Johannes Brahms: Die schöne Magelone Op. 33

Thomas Quasthoff
(bass-baritone) & Justus Zeyen

Wigmore Hall 25 May 2007

It is always inspiriting to hear great handicapped musicians like Itzhak Perlman, Alan Hacker, Matthew Wadsworth and Thomas Quasthoff, who have had to overcome huge physical disadvantages to achieve professional eminence.*

A thalidomide baby of '59, Thomas Quasthoff grew up to become an admired and fully equipped bass-baritone, with a commanding, flexible and expressive voice, and easy rapport with audiences with whom he jokes, describing himself as being "1.34 metres tall, short arms, seven fingers - four right, three left - large, relatively well formed head, brown eyes, distinctive lips; profession: singer"... [q.v. Notable children of those who took thalidomide]

Sitting on a special podium, he gestures with head and body movements, bringing you in to share his boundless enthusiasm for the music. He hoped we would forgive him sparing us the spoken commentary which is often brought to support the thin narrative of Brahms' lengthy and effusive song cycle about the adventures of a knight of old.

Vocally, he conveys identification with the mood of each song with word painting in a rich variety of tone and expression at his command. The voice can become a little rough when pressed, and he resorted to an unsettling falsetto at times for high quiet notes. Before the concert, Quasthoff could be heard from outside the doors rehearsing long in full voice; two major song cycles left him with energy in reserve not to deny his capacity audience an encore.

The pianist Justus Zeyen, long associated with Quasthoff, proved an ideal partner in perfect rapport. They can be heard together in 19 Brahms songs on a fine DGG CD; sample it on Amazon.

Quasthoff's DVD with Daniel Barenboim of Schubert's Winterreise [Deutsche Grammophon 073 4049]
is a must buy! A fine performance in the packed Berlin Philharmonie
(22 March 2005) including privileged footages of the rehearsal process, with discussions and small mutual adjustments, and descriptions of what this great cycle means to both musicians.

A fuller review of the actual performance will follow, but it can be said that Quasthoff was then in splendid voice, confirming my impression that he had not quite been so at Wigmore Hall this time.


Thomas Quasthoff Photo above L credit Wolfgang Reese - Rehearsal screenshot PGW

* See also Matthew Wadsworth