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Although Thomas Quasthoff has flirted with baritone repertoire, the dark resonance of his low register proves he has no mistake in calling himself a bass. He has a fearless approach to top notes, as in Ich grolle nicht, but the truth is his voice acquires a grainy almost rattling sound around the baritone area, which is not entirely pleasant to my ears. But that is a minor detail in the context – what comes to my mind when I think of his Schumann recital at the National Theater is the neverending variety of tone colouring and his undeniable joie de chant.

Dichterliebe is a long cycle and risks to sound neverending in less capable hands. Quasthoff’s sweetness of tone in Lieder such as Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen is irresistible, while his animation and word painting in songs such as Die alten bösen Lieder establishes an ideal level of communication with the audience. After his recital, I can understand the reticence of some local reviewers about Magdalena Kozena’s Schumann, for example, which did sound flatter in comparison.

The second part of Quasthoff’s recital started with a touching and wide-ranging Der arme Peter, a charmingly naive little song cycle, but the famous ballad Belsatzar, sung almost entirely in half tones, lacked some brio. Finally, Liederkreis Op. 24 was sung with immaculate style – but I am afraid he sounded a bit tired at moments. As a result, Dichterliebe would still be the highlight of the concert. His accompanist Justus Zeyen established a wonderful unity of vision with him, offering subtle and varied playing during the Liederabend.

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