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Musical World

Thomas Quasthoff

  • Bass-Baritone


Thomas Quasthoff press reviews

Published: March 7, 2007
After missing two concerts in his Carnegie Hall Perspectives series because of illness, Thomas Quasthoff is back in town and, judging from his expansive master class in German art song at Zankel Hall on Monday, he is energetic and robust. He didn’t do any singing, beyond illustrating points he made as he coached six of his students from the Hanns Eisler School of Music in Berlin. For that, you have to turn up at his program of jazz standards tonight at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Quasthoff is an entertaining and enlightening teacher. His comments were often humorous, though not at his students’ expense, and his quips invariably led to solid observations about what makes an interpretation work.

Of the singers, the most accomplished were Anna Kratky, a mezzo-soprano who sang Brahms’s “Auf dem Kirchhofe,” and Stephan Bootz, a bass-baritone who sang “Der Wegweiser” from Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Both have rich, polished voices and were sufficiently expressive that Mr. Quasthoff’s comments were essentially matters of fine-tuning and goading them to think more carefully about how particular passages might be most eloquently presented.

The others — Martin Gerke, a baritone; Anna Hoffmann, a soprano; Thomas Volle, a tenor; and Ken Masur, a baritone — sounded less fully formed. That proved a good thing for the audience because their performances elicited comments that showed Mr. Quasthoff’s priorities and philosophy most clearly.

When Mr. Gerke sang Carl Loewe’s “Odins Meeresritt,” for example, Mr. Quasthoff stopped him at the third verse — a description of a black knight — and said, “make it more spooky,” an effect he then demonstrated. A moment later, he asked Mr. Gerke, who is 24, “Can you sound older?” His point was that in some songs, including this one, a singer is expected to portray both a narrator and several speakers, and the distinctions must be made in gradations of vocal tone.

When Ms. Hoffmann sang Schumann’s “Du Meine Liebe, Du Meine Herz,” Mr. Quasthoff suggested creating a more supple reading by varying the energy applied to the performance, rather than keeping it constant. He offered similar advice to Mr. Volle, whose account of Brahms’s “Wie Bist du, Meine Königin” improved as he took up Mr. Quasthoff’s advice about shaping the musical line.

Mr. Masur, the son of Kurt Masur, sang four Schubert songs. He received a more practical lesson, on points that Mr. Quasthoff emphasized again in an onstage interview with Ara Guzelimian after the coaching session. One was the importance of enunciating consonants, as a way to clarify the text and to add an expressive element that singers often overlook in favor of coloring the vowels. Another was to keep his facial expressions in mind. “If you look neutral,” he said during Mr. Masur’s rendering of “Wenn ich in Deine Augen seh,” a passionate love song, “it’s not really coming over, what you’re singing about.” He added, “Think about your wife.”

Mr. Masur’s wife, Melinda Lee Masur, accompanied him gracefully at the piano. Andrea Marie Baiocchi provided fine support for the other singers.