Thomas Quasthoff Evening Star
Arias from Zar und Zimmerman, Der Wildschütz, Euryanthe, Tannh”user, and Die schweigsame Frau.
Thomas Quasthoff, bass-baritone, Christiane Oelze, soprano. Chorus and Orchestra of the German Opera, Berlin/Christian Thielemann, cond.

DGG 471 493, F (DDD) TT: 66:35
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Thomas Quasthoff is one of today's most gifted vocalists. His beautiful, warm voice easily ranges through the bass and baritone registers—and sometimes beyond. In more informal concert settings, Mr. Quasthoff has been known to venture into tenor repertoire, such as Tamino's Portrait Aria from Mozart's Die Zauberfl–te! Aligned with this rock-solid vocal technique are the curiosity and imagination of a first-rate artist. As a result, his concerts are uniquely enjoyable and inspiring events.

For the most part, Quasthoff has to date focused his efforts upon song and oratorio. But in recent years, he has begun to consider operatic repertoire as well. I had the pleasure of interviewing him when he appeared with the Pittsburgh Symphony in February of 2001. At that time he mentioned  he would be undertaking Amfortas in Wagner's Parsifal, as well as recording Beckmesser in the composer's Die Meistersinger, the latter with Christian Thielemann, in 2003. He further expressed an interest in such Verdi roles as Macbeth and Rigoletto. During our interview Quasthoff also mentioned the disc now under consideration. Recorded in September of 2001, Evening Star features arias and single duets from various German operas. I am not certain Quasthoff intends to add the operas featured on this recording to his performance repertoire. But any efforts by this superb artist on behalf of the represented works—particularly the Lortzing and Weber—would be greatly appreciated, at least by this writer.

Unfortunately, the German operatic canon—at least as performed in the United States—consists of Mozart, Beethoven, an occasional nod toward Weber and Die freischütz, and Wagner. As a result many worthy compositions from the early to mid-19th century, such as Weber's Euryanthe and Oberon, Marschner's The Vampire and Hans Heiling, Lortzing's Zar und Zimmerman and Der Wildschütz, and Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor languish in relative obscurity. That is a shame, for each of these works offers many pleasures, including great musical and dramatic opportunities for exceptional singers.

Many of Thomas Quasthoff's admirable qualities are displayed in this recital. The voice is in glorious condition, with a remarkable security throughout the registers, and well-supported in a wide variety of dynamic levels, diction and legato beyond reproach. He also has a wonderful rhythmic sense that gives the music a welcome vigor and momentum. Indeed this is vocalism of the highest order. My only reservation is the restrained interpretive stance he frequently adopts here. There is certainly none of the italicizing that inspired critical scorn toward some of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's operatic efforts. Such an approach is well-suited to staid characters, like Tannh”user's Landgraf and Wolfram (the latter represented here by a ravishing account of the Song to the Evening Star). I find this restraint less convincing in his characterizations of buffo figures like Van Bett (Zar und Zimmermann) and Baculus (Der Wildschütz). On the other hand, Mr. Quasthoff is quite involved in Lysiart's great scene from Euryanthe.

When Thomas Quasthoff appeared with the Pittsburgh Symphony in February of 2001 he performed a series of Mozart opera and concert arias. He had previously recorded all of the pieces for RCA in 1994. But the concert performances displayed a far more dramatically incisive and nuanced approach than the recording. I suspect that as with any great performer the presence of an audience brings out the best in Quasthoff. But I also suspect that, given the opportunity, his  performances featured on this new CD will deepen over time as well. In any event the musicality and exemplary vocalism featured on this recording provide tremendous pleasures in their own right.

Christian Thielemann and the Chorus and Orchestra of the German Opera, Berlin, are superb collaborators. The beauty, vibrancy, and exceptional detail that Thielemann brings to the accompaniments certainly make me look forward to the Meistersinger recording. Christiane Oelze is a charming partner to Quasthoff in their duet from Der Wildschütz. The sound is wonderful, with plenty of warmth and detail, and an admirable balance between the soloist and orchestra.

K.M. (April 2002)