Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baritone Thomas Quasthoff to quit singing

by Rodney Punt

Word has come that the great German baritone, Thomas Quasthoff, has ceased his singing career.

Quasthoff's performances were riveting. Southern California audiences will miss his visits to both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, among other venues.

My first encounter with Quasthoff came unexpectedly, on a visit to Germany.

I was in Munich in the early 1990′s and noticed a playbill for a lieder recital at the Herkulessaal, featuring a baritone new to me. A man named Thomas Quasthoff was to sing, among others, the Heinrich Heine songs from Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang. I bought a ticket and took my place in the middle of the hall. An elderly couple entered my row and sat next to me. When Quasthoff walked on stage, I was shocked at his short stature and obvious disabilities. He had to climb on a platform next to the piano just to get his head above its height.

And then he sang – supremely, with deep resonance and a huge range, a voice even throughout the register and full of genuine expressive power. When he got to the Schubert songs, their significance became apparent: ‘Der Atlas’ tells of a man who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; The ‘Doppelgänger’s malevalent shadow follows the man everywhere. I began to sob silently, or so I thought. The elderly German next to me asked in English, “Are you an American?” Struggling to control myself, I responded that I was. He said, “That man on stage, he is my son.”

Many consider Quasthoff the greatest lieder singer of our time. His absence from the stage is a major loss to the art of singing. Fortunately he has left us an outstanding library of recordings that range from art songs to jazz standards. LA Opus wishes Mr. Quasthoff many productive years ahead as a teacher and lecturer on the art of music.