Quasthoff and Levin create superb Schubert song cycle
Oregon Music News
Thomas Quasthoff gave a mesmerizing performance of German lieder in a recital of Franz Schubert’s “Die schöne Müllerin”on Thursday evening (July 1) at the Silva Concert Hall (Hult Center) in Eugene. The concert marked Quasthoff’s highly-anticipated return to the Oregon Bach Festival, which had helped to launch his remarkable career back in 1995. This time, the Quasthoff’s performance had a new twist, because it was rescued by pianist Robert Levin, who filled in at the last minute for an ailing Jeffrey Kahane.
Schubert’s cycle of songs (completed in 1823) were based on a set of poems by Wilhelm Müller. The poems tell the story of a young man who has fallen in love with a young miller’s maid yet finds out that she is in love with a hunter. Crushed and despairing, the young man drowns himself.
It is tempting to think that this tale and Schubert’s music are just part of the fluff of the Romantic era and does not speak to today’s cynical world, but Quasthoff conveyed the depth of emotion in this music and its text in such a way that it resonated deeply. In songs like “Das Wandern” (Wandering), Quasthoff exuded the optimism of a young man who is out to experience the world. In “Ungeduld” (Impatience), Quastoff ardently proclaimed the young man’s enthusiastic love for the miller’s maid. In “Der Jäger” (The hunter), it was easy to feel the young man’s hatred and envy of his rival.
And so it went with all twenty songs. Quasthoff imbued each word and each phase with meaning. He also drew from a large palette of vocal colors: lingering consonants, reinforced, but lovely falsettos, wrathful forzandos, tender and smooth notes that elided quickly to other notes, and echoing lines. He took the audience into the forest, confided with the brook, and created an entire persona.
All of this incredible music-making was enhanced by Levin, who had to give lectures earlier in the day, and didn’t have much of a chance to rehearse with Quasthoff. Levin’s playing never overshadowed Quasthoff’s voice, but Levin did let the piano part become more pronounced whenever he had the opportunity to have the last world in some of the songs.
Together Quasthoff and Levin transported the audience into the world of the young man and the swirl of his feelings. After the last notes died away, there was a long pause before the audience started applauding and applauding and applauding. Quasthoff and Levin must have come out on the stage at least four times after their initial bows. The cheering and the standing ovation signaled heartfelt thanks for the journey.