Thomas Quasthoff /Justus Zeyen - Wigmore Hall, 21 November 2008
Schubert Der Sänger; Auf dem See; Wandrers Nachtlied II; An Schwager Kronos
Musorgsky Lieder und Tänze des Todes
Schumann Liederkreis Op. 39
Encores Schumann Widmung; Schubert Der Musensohn; Seligkeit
Is Thomas Quasthoff planning a new career in chat? He certainly gave us plenty of it at the Wigmore Hall. His introductory speech made a (quite unnecessary) apology for tackling Musorgsky in German rather than Russian, on the eminently reasonable grounds that he doesn't think he should try to sing in a language he doesn't speak. Later he managed a lengthy introduction for each of his encores (without actually mentioning what he was about to sing, it should be added). Not that he's bad at it. I can't think of another singer so able to entertain and hold an audience's attention with this sort of thing. But it disturbs some sort of indefinable equilibrium, turning a recital into a show of a quite different type.
And did it alter his own focus? Intensity was lacking at key moments; there was a hint of going through the motions, or perhaps just tiredness. Quasthoff is blessed with a fine natural instrument. In the lower-lying An Schwager Kronos and particularly the rumbling Musorgsky death songs he used it with devastating power. These were truly terrifying, showing a startling flipside to the jovial bonhomie of his introduction.
Perhaps sustaining this level of intensity throughout a recital is too much to ask of any performer. Wandrers Nachtlied was by contrast rather half-hearted, as were many parts of the Eichendorff Liederkreis, particularly the higher or quieter passages where Quasthoff is least at ease technically. Justus Zeyen's unobtrusive excellence was some compensation.