Wednesday, January 18, 2012

River Man

It is like death, the retirement of a singer. The voice stilled; its beauty heard no more.
Thomas Quasthoff, the great German bass-baritone, has declared that, at age 52, his health will not allow him to perform up to his high standard. He will, however, continue his teaching of younger vocalists.
Quasthoff was less than half the height of a normal grown man; he hobbled onto the concert stage bouncing from one stubby leg to the other. He turned the pages of his music with arms that were little more than flippers.
Born in 1959, Thomas Quasthoff was a physically-deformed victim of the drug Thalidomide. Thankfully, the drug spared Quasthoff two things: his booming voice and his sense of humor.
The after effects of treatment for my own illness (lymphoma) last spring prevented my hearing Quasthoff’s last appearance at Carnegie Hall as part of the vocal quartet in Brahms’ “Liebeslieder Walzer.” But I had heard him on several previous occasions at the old Hall. What stands out in my mind was an encore at the end of a (Schubert, I think) program: Kern and Hammerstein’s “Ol Man River.” Quasthoff sent chills up my spine. You can hear it here:
So, thank you, Thomas Quasthoff, and good luck and good health in the future.