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9.11.06

Thomas Quasthoff's Soul Considers

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Thomas Quasthoff, Consider, My Soul, Staatskapelle Dresden, Sebastian Weigle (released on September 12, 2006)
This disc is a follow-up to Thomas Quasthoff's Bach cantata release from 2004. This one is less concentrated, with excerpts, mostly in German, from oratorios and passions by Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. The range of composers might make you shy away from this recording as something too crowd-pleasing, but the selection of arias (one duet with soprano Sibylla Rubens, some choral contributions from the Staatsopernchor Dresden) is varied and smart and Quasthoff's sound is as smooth and mellow as always. His remarkable voice is one of the few that truly merits that fence-sitting moniker of bass-baritone. Think of Consider, My Soul as the thinking singer's answer to Renée Fleming's Sacred Songs.

High points include a jovial rendition of Simon's aria ("Schon eilet froh der Ackersmann") from Haydn's Seasons, and the aria "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein" from the St. Matthew Passion, a gentle interior dance for the soul preparing to make itself a sepulchre for Jesus. The CD's title comes from the arioso "Betrachte, meine Seel" from Bach's St. John Passion, here performed with suave accompaniment from lutenist Stefan Maass and viola d'amore players Jörg Kettmann and Ulrike Scobel. This, the contemplation of the soul's joy in the suffering of Jesus crowned with thorns, is one of the moments in the St. John Passion that is guaranteed to make me cry. Sebastian Weigle leads the Staatskapelle Dresden in sensitive performances, with some solo work by players who may or may not be regular members of that orchestra, like oboe d'amore players Andreas Lorenz and Bernhard Mühlbach, who give fine performances on obbligato parts in one of the Bach pieces.

The only thing you need to skip as embarrassing pablum is the "bonus track," a boozy Broadway arrangement of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." I could do without the recitative and aria ("The Trumpet Shall Sound") from Messiah, which are fine, although with some interesting vowel sounds from Quasthoff in English. It must be nice to live in a country that is not inundated with performances of that dreaded oratorio every December (I think there are a dozen or so scheduled in Washington alone this year). As a good will gesture to the United States, the departing Republican Congress should pass a law that American civic choral groups must perform only Bach's Christmas Oratorio for a few years instead, just to give us all a freaking break.

Deutsche Grammophon B0007103-02

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