Monday, July 21, 2014

When You Open it to Speak (or Sing) are you Smart?

Amoeba Music in Los Angeles had a Thomas Quasthoff section. I knew that he had retired from singing a few years ago, so I just bought all of his recordings including "The Jazz Album" (from 2007). Quasthoff's Bach is superb (but I knew that), and so is his German Lieder singing (naturally).

I'm pretty discerning when it comes to German diction, but as a native speaker I feel that I have some expertise in American English diction. Quasthoff's American English is excellent. It might even be idiomatic to a fault, incorporating the colloquial pronunciation of a word like "sister" as it would be sung by, perhaps, the Beach Boys. In Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," Quasthoff allows himself a few rich shadows of ever-so-slightly German-tinged vowels when he really gets expressive on sustained notes, but it seems appropriate (Chaplin, after all, did not speak American English). Vocally Quasthoff can do anything, but he doesn't use the music here as a way to show off his voice. Rather he uses his flexible and formidable voice to bring out all the expressive and interpretive possibilities that are in these wonderful songs.

Quasthoff treats Alan and Marilyn Bergman's superb lyric to "What are you Doing the Rest of your Life?" (the music is by Michel Legrand) with the same reverence that he treats Heinrich Heine's poetry. Pianist Alan Broadbent made the smaller ensemble arrangements, and Nan Schwartz made the adventurous (and very impressive) orchestral arrangements, which she conducts.

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