Die schöne Magelone, Op.33
Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone) & Justus Zeyen (piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 25 May, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Quasthoff does seem to like Brahms’s songs; his recorded version of “Four Serious Songs” (DG) is the best I have heard. He introduced “Die schöne Magelone” with a brief speech that combined a dig at singers who appear at Wembley Arena and the like and the possibility of Johnny Depp appearing as the Knight. The cycle recounts the hackneyed and somewhat ridiculous story of a young Knight who meets his love, somehow gets lost in a forest, is abducted by Moors, sold to a Sultan (for what use is never really explained) and escapes to be reunited with his love, who has waited any number of years for him, in a forest hut.
There are 15 songs and in the original version – which thankfully we were spared – a narrator filled in the missing bits of the epic. The music is far from inspired, being melodically sparse and somewhat repetitious, both technically and emotionally. As in the Schumann, Quasthoff lavished a whole range of tone colours and dynamic shading, the bass notes towards the end of ‘Sin des Schmerzen’ were alarmingly open and threatening, the rhythmic bounce in the fifth song was infectious, the rocking pianissimos in ‘Ruhe, Süßliebchen’ hypnotic and Zeyen was his equal in every way. And yet, as in the Schumann, there were problems. The singer’s attention to detail became disruptive, with the insistence on making every note an individually coloured component destroying the line. More legato would have been welcome.
Despite this serious reservation, the recital will remain in the memory. Quasthoff has that very rare combination: a great voice and a powerful intellect. Everything he does demands to be heard.
- Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 7 June at 7 p.m.
- Wigmore Hall