SCHUBERT Winterreise Quasthoff DVD-VIDEO

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FRANZ SCHUBERT

Winterreise
Le Voyage d'hiver
Viaggio d'inverno
Thomas Quasthoff
Daniel Barenboim
Int. Release 06 Oct. 2005
1 DVD-Video
DVD-VIDEO NTSC 0440 073 4049 3 GH
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 16:9
Subtitles: German/English
Landmark Schubert recording from internationally acclaimed Lied interpreter Thomas Quasthoff


Track List

Various Artists

Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Winterreise, D. 911

2.
6:00

5.
2:46

7.
4:33

9.
2:22

10.
2:54

11.
3:41

13.
3:17

14.
2:35

16.
2:22

18.
3:24

20.
1:20

23.
1:33

Thomas Quasthoff, Daniel Barenboim

Total Playing Time 1:23:25

Singers usually take a longer breath between Schubert's two great song cycles, "Die Schöne Müllerin" and "Winterreise", than baritone Thomas Quasthoff did this year. Last week saw the simultaneous releases of his live performance of "Winterreise", with pianist Daniel Barenboim at the Berlin Philharmonie on March 22, captured on a spellbinding DVD (DG), and a studio CD of the former (DG) with his usual accompanist, Justus Zeyen. But different as these performances are, and they are as different as can be, they both rank among the most deeply considered of a spate of recordings of the cycles to have appeared of late . . .

. . . musically masterful and honest, and consistently holds your attention. He brings the subtle gradations of vocal color that are considered the foundation of his art to the fore throughout the cycle, shading each word with care and genuine specificity of feeling. (Schöne Müllerin).

. . . one of the most searing accounts of this music ever . . . The poems aren't so much sung or even spoken as they are tattooed on your eardrums with Quasthoff's lapidary attention to detail. Everything counts in a performance upon which life and death seems to hinge. There's nothing patently unorthodox about what Quasthoff does; I can't say I heard things in the score I've never heard before. But I felt things I've never felt before . . . Song for song, Barenboim, too, is a marvel, playing with keen sensitivity to the smallest shifts in Schubert's expression.

This is the record of an exceptionally fine performance of Schubert's great song-cycle, given in the Berlin Philharmonie last March. Filmed with great tact and concentration, we only see, apart from a frew distance shots, Barenboim weighing in with his accompaniment and Thomas Quasthoff close up, with his expressive features. When, as he sings his last desolate note, he closes his eyes and keeps them shut for some time, that seems entirely natural, not a calculated device. The series of 24 songs, each of them great and cumulatively overwhelming, begins with a surprising simplicity, both from the singer and the pianist . . . Quasthoff proves equal to any challenge that he receives, from the composer and from the accompanist . . . Bold, seemingly spontaneous yet deeply pondered, this is one of the great performances of this masterwork that I have ever witnessed. There is also half an hour of illuminating interviews with the artists, and rehearsal sequences.

Having set vocal standards in virtually all his repertoire, Thomas Quasthoff reaches a peak of achievement here. Certainly that mellow timbre can stand comparison with any Lieder baritone on disc, and Quasthoff, although more baritone than bass, does also possess welcome ease in the lower extremes. Quiet attacks and leaps to soft high notes give joy, legato invariably flows as beautifully as the best of Fischer-Dieskau, and the phrasing is often so achingly tender and delicate as to reduce the listener on several occasions to tears . . . The . . . singer's invariably apt expression -- never exaggerated -- is increasingly plaintive, youthful and vulnerable as the cycle proceeds . . . Barenboim is clearly much moved by his collaboration with Quasthoff, at one point stepping back to let the audience shower the singer with applause. DG's sound is, as usual, excellent. No need to choose between this and Fischer-Dieskau's DVD -- run, do not walk, to purchase both.

As we know from his fine CD version, Thomas Quasthoff is a master of this cycle, his command of word and music consistently true and compelling. His interpretation here is once more imbued with sincere empathy with the suffering traveller, suggesting, as he says in the accompanying interview, a man at once at the end of his tether and yet defiant. He is also keen to show that each song could not exist without its being part of the whole, just one aspect of Schubert's genius. The cohesion of his reading is supported with deep acumen by Barenboim's thoughtfully felicitous playing.

. . . the interpretation is beautiful throughout . . . Quasthoff's voice is richly mellifluous, and his singing gives constant pleasure . . . as always, he concentrates on "was uns im tiefsten innern bewegt" rather than opting for any excessive show . . . this pays dividends in a wonderful sense of intimacy, both with the audience and the accompanist . . . Quasthoff and Barenboim give very fine performances . . . with touching grace.

Beide Wiedergaben sind von einer brennenden, berührenden Intensität, die dennoch niemals exhibitionistisch und outriert wirkt. Larmoyanz und Wehleidigkeit sind verboten, bittere Ironie und mitunter Sarkasmus hingegen setzt Quasthoff in der "Winterreise" auf überzeugende Weise ein. Bei der "Müllerin" punktet er mit einer erschütternden emotionalen Schlichtheit und Wahrhaftigkeit, die wirklich ins Herz dieser Musik trifft und zu Herzen geht . . . Großartig gestaltet der Baßbariton hier den Aspekt der "inneren Emigration", ohne ihn intellektuell zu überfrachten . . . Besonders auch in der "Müllerin" bezieht Quasthoff ganz bewußt und wohlüberlegt den Wechsel vom Brust- zum Kopfregister als Ausdrucksmittel ein.

Diese Veröffentlichung ist wiederum das Dokument einer tiefgehenden Beschäftigung mit einem der Schlüsselwerke unserer Musikgeschichte. Quasthoff und Daniel Barenboim haben sich an Schuberts "Winterreise" gewagt und auf ganz unprätentiöse, bewegend schlichte . . . . Weise erschütternde Wirkung beim Publikum hervorgerufen: Der Abend des 22. März 2005 in der Berliner Philharmonie wurde für DVD aufgezeichnet und liegt jetzt vor: Hier zählen die inneren Werte, jenseits aller eitlen Star-Bespiegelung.

. . . das Dokument einer tiefgehenden Beschäftigung mit einem der Schlüsselwerke unserer Musikgeschichte.

Die beiden spielen sich traumsicher die Lied-Bälle zu, da ist kein Zittern und Zagen. Ein Bariton muss sich den Zyklus immer viel härter erarbeiten als ein Tenor. Quasthoff macht das toll. Ist freudig-naiv, dann tödlich betrübt; sein Legato weitet sich ins visionär Schwebende, deutsche Innigkeit wird Weltkunst. Dabei von jeder Manier ungetrübt, klar, einfach und richtig. Das muss man hören.

Diese Live-DVD ist eine der interessantesten Liedgesangs-Dokumentationen, die auf dem Markt sind. Live in Berlin aufgenommen, ist diese "Winterreise" das perfekte Drama über den Topos des "rastlosen Wanderers". Selten wurde seelische Monotonie, die Ausweglosigkeit im Innern eines Menschen, musikalisch so bewegend ausgedrückt . . . Bei diesem Recital . . . wächst Quasthoff im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes über sich hinaus, wird an einigen Stellen geradezu wortgewaltig, um sich dann in extremste Winkel seiner Stimme zurückzuziehen. Daniel Barenboim begleitet ihn hier mehr als kongenial am Flügel.

Thomas Quasthoff stellt sich den hohen Ansprüchen dieser Lieder, und er kann es sich leisten. Mit stimmlicher Präsenz, seinem unverwechselbaren Timbre und herrlichem Legato gestaltet er die 24 Miniaturdramen nach Gedichten von Wilhelm Müller einfühlsam und subtil . . . Thomas Quasthoff sieht Schubert nicht als politischen Revoluzzer. Er folgt dem weltabgewandten Komponisten auf den verschneiten Pfaden der Einsamkeit. Allerdings ist der Sänger von einem einförmig-innerlichen Vortrag weit entfernt. Seine Fähigkeit, mit den Farben der Stimme zu spielen, Nuancen zu setzen und in die Tiefen der Lieder vorzudringen, eröffnet weitgehende Deutungen. Von Daniel Barenboim subtil begleitet, regt er den konzentrierten Zuhörer zum Mitfühlen und Mit-Denken an. So wurde sein Liederabend in der Berliner Philharmonie trotz des indisponierten Publikums zu einer Sternstunde der Schubert-Interpretation.

Daniel Barenboim am Klavier und Bariton Thomas Quasthoff interpretieren Schubert ungewohnt lebendig. Ein Dialog aus Musik und Worten, in dem sich beides ergänzt. Quasthoff ist Sänger und Erzähler, Barenboim berichtet vom emotionalen Subtext der Musik. Weltliche Lieder aus dem Himmel.

Der intensive Liedzyklus von Franz Schubert und dessen Interpretation durch zwei hoch begabte und intelligente Musiker wie Thomas Quasthoff und Daniel Barenboim dürfte Anlass genug für den Besuch gewesen sein . . . Er spielt mit dem Rhythmus, den Tempi und dem Klang der Silben . . . Quasthoffs Credo, nicht jede Note geplant einzusetzen, da dieses "als Tod jeder Musik" verstanden werden muss, gepaart mit dem intelligenten Einsatz seiner phänomenalen Möglichkeiten, beschert der Zuhörerschaft eine "Winterreise" aller erster Güte.

Dans la grande salle de la Philharmonie de Berlin, ce 22 mars 2005, il s'est passé quelque chose. Ce "Winterreise" irradie d'une lumière âpre. Voyez Barenboim à son piano. Il jouerait ce "Voyage d'hiver" les yeux fermés. Impressionnantes, cette sûreté ¿ mieux: cette hauteur de vue ¿ et cette minutie de maître-artisan, sculptant la moindre nuance. Chaque accent est empreint d'évidence, mais cette évidence vient de loin (une vie avec Schubert). La dynamique d'"Auf dem Flusse", les échos étranges et lointains du "Lindenbaum", le mélange, dans "Letzte Hoffnung", de langueurs et de douleur, la lenteur engourdie du "Leiermann": c'est tout simple et c'est saisissant. La voix de Quasthoff contraste avec l'expression de son visage. Masque de douleur pour une voix qui à chaque instant cherche la rondeur et la douceur. On entend des espoirs défaits, une bonté sacrifiée. Elle est transfigurée. Inégalités, rugosités, monochromie en sont partie intégrante. Les répétitions proposées en bonus la font entendre telle. On y voit Barenboim à l'écoute absolue de son chanteur et de ses indications, totalement humble. Au concert, c'est l'inverse: le chant du piano ¿ liquide, suprême ¿ investit le phrasé et même le timbre du chanteur, qui s'abandonne et se métamorphose. Passionnant.

Quasthoff está en un momento vocal de enorme madurez, con un sonido envolvente y cálido y belleza en todas las zonas, con graves de enorme resonancia y un fraseo que funde milagrosamente continente y contenido, música y palabra en un todo único e indivisible.

. . . el sentimiento a flor de piel de Quasthoff, que parece transfigurarse en cada verso que canta y la perfecta compenetración con un Barenboim que tampoco disimulaba sus emociones, produjeron un efecto sorprendente de éxtasis y recogimiento en la audiencia, que dedicó una larguísima ovación a ambos.

Quasthoff . . . en este recital está inmenso.

. . . nos encontramos cara a cara con dos artistas enormes en un intento finalmente logrado de convertir la gran sala de la Filarnionía en un íntimo espacio de introspección y confidencia. La sintonía y la complicidad espiritual entre ambos artistas alcanza grados de extraordinario nivel, que convierten este Winterreise en uno de los más emocionantes testimonios en vivo de la obra . . . Quasthoff está en un momento vocal de enorme madurez, con un sonido envolvente, de gran calidez y belleza en todas las zonas, con graves de enorme resonancia, y un frasco que funde milagrosamente continente y contenido, música y palabras, en un todo único e indivisible . . . este formidable barítono alemán, en una interpretación que, además, es técnicamente perfecta, y de una belleza de sonido incuestionable . . . Ni que decir tiene: recomendado.


Art and Nature

Thomas Quasthoff sings the "Müller Lieder"

"Ah, how difficult nature is," sighs Lord Tristan in Flotow's Martha. Some singers can sing entire song cycles on the subject. In singing - and especially in lieder singing - nothing is harder than to recreate what we call "naturalness" and "simplicity", precisely because these qualities are rarely available on tap. In most cases they have to be acquired through a mixture of hard work, insight and experience. The naturalness and simplicity that we find to exemplary effect in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte are qualities which, like Paradise, have to be regained. For this reason, if for no other, the role of the birdcatcher Papageno is only apparently easy to sing. Technically speaking, it should not be a problem for a well-trained lyric baritone - but how many singers (even world-famous ones) have had difficulty putting across the character's naturalness and simplicity, a difficulty mercilessly exposed by children, whose instinctive understanding of what is "natural" is generally infallible.

The situation is even more difficult with Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin. For some singers, these twenty settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller - known since they were first published in 1824 by the deliberately ambiguous alternative title of "Müller Lieder" - are the most demanding songs in the repertory. What may seem simple and folklike is anything but simple for the singer. The first of his difficulties stems from the fact that Schubert severely tests the interpreter's ability to produce a legato line. The eleventh song, Mein!, for example, is supposed to be the apprentice miller's song of triumph, but singers who fail to produce a seamless legato here will all too soon find themselves plunging into what Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has aptly described as "an abyss of interpolated aspirates": even the greatest singers have been heard to sing "Die-hi ge-he-lie-hieb-te-he Mü-hül-le-he-ri-hin i-hist ma-hain."

Next, the numerous strophic songs demand an interpreter capable of producing the subtlest and most varied colours. For Thomas Quasthoff, this is an essential ability: "The human voice is the most colourful of all musical instruments, and colour is the be-all and end-all of lieder singing. I don't just want to produce beautiful singing in cycles like Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise but to use the colours in my voice to do justice to their content, too. And how can you do justice to the songs in Die schöne Müllerin that deal with jealousy if you just sing 'beautifully'? Here you simply have to abandon the vocal line, otherwise these songs are insufficiently expressive. But it should never stand out and simply sound ugly. So much 'naturalism' tends rather to be counterproductive and even amateurish. And it's this that is so difficult: to do justice to the sort of expression that's required while using the artistic resources of singing."

If we reduce the Müller Lieder to something like a plot, then, in the words of Jochen Kowalski, they "tell a story that we have all experienced at some point in our lives: a sensitive soul has no chance in love as soon as 'Mr Right' turns up". But how closely should a performer stick to this "plot"? How far can he depart from the actual content of the songs in order to depict the action on a more abstract level as a cycle about love, hope, jealousy, despair and suicide? Or, to put it more simply: should the interpreter slip into the role of the miller's apprentice or assume the role of the narrator? For Thomas Quasthoff, this is not a question that can be answered unequivocally: "One is narrator and character at one and the same time. You're not reporting on events from outside but experiencing them while narrating them. After all, there's also something operatic about it - the main difference being that the singer can't hide behind a costume, make-up and sets, but stands there completely naked, with his own experiences and emotions that have to be brought to his interpretation.
The psychological states in Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise can be depicted in a believable way only if you are willing to explore these states. Only then will the result be something that we can call 'honest', 'true' and 'authentic'."

Whether the cycle really ends with the apprentice's suicide is "pure speculation", according to Thomas Quasthoff. "There is no clear proof of this in Schubert, no matter how much secondary literature you care to pore over. But to my own mind, there are far greater indications of this in Die schöne Müllerin than in Winterreise. In the case of the final song in Winterreise you could conclude that here's someone who has sought death but who ultimately does an about-turn and attempts a new beginning. But with the Müller Lieder I do tend to think that they end on a note of tragedy. In my own view, the cycle reflects Schubert's life, albeit on a higher level than a purely biographical one."
But what kind of a role is played by the purely biographical element when one is working on an interpretation? What about Schubert's position in society under Metternich's reactionary regime? "Whenever you're working on a piece, it is essential to examine the composer's situation within his own time," Quasthoff insists. "But many people are inclined to give more weight to the social and political background than to purely personal considerations. I think that in Schubert's case the image of a man at odds with society is just as one-sided (and therefore just as wrong) as the romantic cliché of the composer coming to terms through his art with his unhappiness in love. Of course Schubert was familiar with the sufferings caused by the world and by love - and by all that he brought down on himself. But he also lived. I mean, you don't catch syphilis just from composing. I was once attacked for saying this, but ultimately this simply shows that one has to be just as wary of simplifying things as of over-interpreting them. It is perhaps this that constitutes the particular field of tension surrounding Schubert: the complex, comprehensive nature of his personality - and the inspired simplicity of his music. And it is very much this simplicity that demands more from the performer than even the most complicated construct."

Thomas Voigt
7/2005

"To open oneself up to psychological states"

Thomas Quasthoff sings "Winterreise"

There are works of art with which one is never finished, either as a performer or as a listener. Among these works are not only Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Goethe's Faust and Wagner's Ring but also Schubert's Winterreise. A performance of Winterreise lasts around seventy minutes, but it can take an entire lifetime for a singer to come to terms with the work. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau spent more than fifty years exploring the cycle and, as his recordings reveal, the results differ markedly at different stages in his artistic development.

For Thomas Quasthoff, too, Winterreise is likely to be a lifelong challenge, and at some point we shall no doubt be able to compare his performances from the early, middle and later years of his professional career. He is one of those singers who with advancing age and increasing experience strike out in new directions, ever conscious of the fact that they will never reach their journey's end. The journey itself is the goal, which is why Quasthoff would never for a moment consider deciding on each step in advance: "I've heard performances of Winterreise, even by big-name singers, in which every note and every phrase was planned out right down to the very last detail - and every evening it sounded exactly the same. For me, this spells the end of music. Anyone who wants to reach his audience must allow himself to be inspired by the impulse of the moment."
When Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim performed Winterreise in the Berlin Philharmonie on 22 March 2005, only a few days before Good Friday, the audience seemed to be indisposed, at least at the beginning, a circumstance that is fortunately not apparent from the present DVD. "Winterreise in a storm of coughing," Klaus Geitel began his review in the Berliner Morgenpost. "The storm blew and wheezed from the rows of the Philharmonie into the faces of Thomas Quasthoff and Daniel Barenboim as they performed Schubert's Winterreise at their festival concert... Only slowly did the audience gain control of itself and begin to listen in a concentrated manner. And so, against all expectation, the result proved to be a deeply moving and masterly evening of lieder interpretation. Quasthoff and Barenboim explored each song both sensitively and thoroughly."

To that extent, the present live recording may be regarded as a testimonial to the power of communication, not only in terms of the partnership between Quasthoff and Barenboim but also with regard to the artists' ability to communicate with their audience. Anyone who succeeds in turning a stressed-out and bronchitic metropolitan audience into a raptly attentive commonality of listeners must have something important to communicate. This is not something that can be done simply with a good vocal technique and a beguiling beauty of tone. According to Thomas Quasthoff, there are two things that make a good lieder singer: the ability to use the voice's whole colour spectrum and the art of being able to articulate a sentence or a word in a hundred different ways. In order to gain a complete grasp of the specific qualities of a song, Quasthoff advises his pupils to speak the text before they sing it: "This is a very elementary step, as things become clear to you that you may not notice when you sing the text. Before I became a singer, I was a newsreader, and this idea of reading something aloud to yourself is very useful for my work as a singer. The bulk of a piece becomes clear to you if you read it aloud. And then comes the second step, which is to see how the composer has set the words to music. Is it a one-to-one setting, is it in some way heightened, is it ironical and alienating, or are words transferred to what could be called a meta-level?"

When asked whether Schubert's Winterreise can also be interpreted as an indictment of the reactionary politics of the age of Metternich, Quasthoff offers a guarded response: "Schubert was by no means an unpolitical person, but nor was he a great revolutionary - at least there is no evidence for this. If he felt any social and political pressure, he did not rebel against it but withdrew into himself. And wallowing in grief was certainly not unique to Schubert, it was a striking feature of the time - it was clearly an emotional age. In this respect Schubert was certainly not an outsider. And I think he would have been very surprised to find what some interpreters and musicologists have read into his song cycles; I doubt whether he invested his 'eerie songs' with ideas of this kind. What always fascinates me about Schubert is his simplicity - and in this simplicity he is inspired."

The fact that for Quasthoff the idea of "withdrawing into oneself" was more important than "rebelling against outward circumstances" is evident from his Berlin Winterreise. Klaus Geitel again: "Quasthoff knows how to produce emotional shocks by means of a mere breath. He sings purposefully and precisely with a voice that appears to fail him at moments of inner turmoil. He plunges deep into the wanderer's psychological states and gives voice to them in a quite wonderful way. He is the singer of loneliness. In this he is incomparable... Abandoned to Schubert's tragic world, Quasthoff and Barenboim walk hand in hand, knee-deep in artificial snow, undertaking this terrible winter's journey together, a journey that one can easily imagine must have alarmed Schubert's circle of friends when he first played and sang it to them."

"Plunging deep into the wanderer's psychological states" - this phrase must have struck a chord with Thomas Quasthoff. For unlike many singers, who comment on the psychological depths of Winterreise from what might be termed a Philharmonic distance, Quasthoff is not squeamish about his emotions: "You can give a credible performance of Winterreise only if you open yourself up to these psychological states. Only then will the result be something that we call 'honest' or 'true' or 'authentic'. At the same time you have to be careful, especially with a work like Winterreise, that you don't find yourself carried away and impose on the cycle a uniformly apocalyptic mood. As an interpreter, one is constantly required to find a balance between suffering, resignation and inner revolt. If this balance is wrong, the work as a whole may go completely off the rails. That is another reason why Winterreise is an endless tightrope walk."
Thomas Voigt
7/2005