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David Thomas (Bass)

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See: David Thomas – Short Biography


David Thomas

Continue of discussion from: Hans Hotter – General Discussions [Performers]

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 14, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/6718
>>Conversely, it is also relatively rare for the more typical voices currently heard performing Bach, voices generally lacking the full power of vocal projection, to produce the controlled strength/range of vocal output [such as that which Hotter possessed] which Bach often requires of his bass singers. <<
Rather than focusing on nice things about Hans Hotter, you've turned it around to another pedantic bash of the supposed inadequacies (in your opinion) of current professional singers of Bach's music.

Have you ever heard David Thomas' recording of Händel's "Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo"? More difficult music than Bach's. There's even a spot where he has to leap from A above middle C down 2.5 octaves to the D at the bottom of the bass staff; and he nails it. And David Thomas has done a very fine recording of "Ich habe genug," (BWV 82) also.

Johan van Veen wrote (December 14, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] David Thomas happens to be one of my favourite basses. One of the best things I have heard from him is his part in Purcell's Don Quixote (in Hogwood's recording of Purcell's theatre music).

There is a quite amazing recording with him, called "King of the Low Seas", with monodies by Caccina and Puliaschi. Puliaschi's monodies ask for a range of three octaves, and Thomas masters them convincingly.

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (December 15, 2003):
[To Johan van Veen] Yeah Thomas is definitely one of the most impressive basses, if not singers out there. What I find most impressive is his range-as Johan's example in Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo. I also have him in Parrot's recordings of Messiah, Israel in Egypt and the SJP (BWV 245), and in McGegan's Judas M - he really shows off his range in this last one, doing a D below bass clef in one aria, and about a G or A above middle C in another aria-all as part of ornamented cadenzas!

Of course, his range isn't the only feature of his voice worth mentioning-his tone is incredibly distinctive, at once able to be commanding and comforting.

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (December 15, 2003):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] I only have one recording including David Thomas, which is the Messiah directed by Masaaki Suzuki. I don't know wether this work has big technical challenges for the bass soloist, but I like Thomas' interpretation very much.

Robert Sherman wrote (December 15, 2003):
[To Wang Xiao-yun] Yes, Messiah has very big technical challenges for the bass. Very few singers can do a credible job of it.

Regarding David Thomas, who has recorded Messiah several times, I agree that he has the best low range in the business. His low C could crack a missile silo at a hundred paces.

Still, I find his Messiah performances otherwise not the best. It's more of a mental thing than a vocal thing; despite his world-champion low range, he doesn't seem to grasp the grandeur of Händel's writing here. I invite you to compare his Messiah with those of Raimund Herincx (singing with Mackerras), Bryn Terfel (on his recital disk, also conducted by Mackerras) or to a slightly lesser degree John Cheek (singing with Westenberg).

Herincx is also a true bass and, while he doesn't go as low as Thomas, he gives the impression he could do it. Terfel, on the other hand, is only a bass-baritone and is reaching hard to get down to a G; but despite that, IMO he has a darker sound and more intensity and majesty than Thomas.

Anyway, listen to those and tell me what you think. If you can't find them, I can post excerpts.

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2003):
Brad Lehman stated:
>> Rather than focusing on nice things about Hans Hotter, you've turned it around to another pedantic bash of the supposed inadequacies (in your opinion) of current professional singers of Bach's music.

Have you ever heard David Thomas' recording of Händel's "Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo"? More difficult music than Bach's.<<
In the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003), one of the expert musicologists [choose from among: Owev Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Fforbes/Ellen T. Harris (with Gerald Waldman)] stated the following:
>>The early music revival has required voices that are not only flexible but light in tone. The English bass David Thomas has sung with distinction a 17th- and 18th-century repertory ranging from Monteverdi to Mozart; he has specialized in Händel (notably Polyphemus) and recorded arias written for Montagnana.<<

It would seem that ‘light in tone’ is construed as a virtue among those in the ‘early music revival.’ There is IMHO a disparity between ‘light in tone’ and a ‘full voice’ which sings with great power and volume.

Händel's music ‘more difficult than Bach’s’? Perhaps this is one reason why David Thomas has sung Bach so rarely – it may be too easy for him!

Also in the New Grove, Owen Jander/Ellen T. Harris in their section about ‘Singing’ make the following observation:
>>Recording technology, although it does not necessarily alter the production of sound, has had a great effect on both popular and classical singing. It provides recorded documentation of specific singers, yielding more information than any verbal account has ever been able to convey, and further permits composers to supervise recorded documentation of their intentions, allowing a more precise transmission than is possible in a written score. Ironically, at least in the performance of classical music, the technology that made it possible to capture and disseminate the remarkable variety of singers' styles has tended to encourage stylistic norms and led to an increased internationalization and homogenization of sound production and performing practice. In popular music, individuality, sometimes reaching to the extremes, has been more welcome.<<

This seems to say that recordings have helped to create and support a limited view (“stylistic norms”) on ‘what HIP voices should sound like.’ Add to this the problem that some musicologists maintain that they can actually describe the type of voices that Bach had at his disposal as being ‘very flexible’ but ‘light-weight’ in tone production.) I have studied Tosi/Agricola, Mattheson, and currently am looking carefully at Walther’s musical lexicon. These books seem to relate more directly to Bach’s time and place in history than the ones from other centuries and different countries that are usually quoted, but they [the authors I referred to above] have failed to reveal the type of ‘ideal HIP’ voice [limited volume/range] that has been primarily in vogue for the past 40 years or so. Little or no vibrato? Yes! Counter tenors like Andreas Scholl? Yes! Boy/Male sopranos? Yes! But lacking rich, full-voice vocal production throughout the entire range of the voice? No! [Obviously this does not mean that such a voice must sing this way all the time!] While there may be a few voices among those who sing in HIP that are excellent and leave little more to be desired, my own experience in listening to many recordings is that many, if not most, reveal deficiencies in possessing a satisfying fullness, richness of voice throughout the entire normal range for the voice part. It could easily be that whatever is gained in the flexibility of voice (singing coloraturas, trills, etc., with ease) is lost, on the other hand, in rotundity, and sheer volume of voice. There is a 'trade-off' here which can only be surmounted with great difficulty [or with an extremely gifted/talented voice.]

Uri Golomb wrote (December 15, 2003):
Thomas Braatz wrote
< In the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003), one of the expert musicologists [choose from amon: Owev Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, Elizabeth Fforbes/Ellen T. Harris (with Gerald Waldman)] stated the following:
>>The early music revival has required voices that are not only flexible but light in tone. The English bass David Thomas has sung with distinction a 17th- and 18th-century repertory ranging from Monteverdi to Mozart; he has specialized in Händel (notably Polyphemus) and recorded arias written for Montagnana.<<
It would seem that light in tone' is construed as a virtue among those in the early music revival.' There is IMHO a disparity between <light in tone' and a full voice' which sings with great power and volume. >
Not necessarily. David Thomas was, among other things, a member of the Consort of Musicke, where he had to sing bass as part of an ensemble of soloists. The same things applied when he took part in Andrew Parrott's B minor Mass, which was mostly one-per-part: his SJP (mostly two-per-part): in the choruses, he had to keep his voice under control so that he won't cover the other singers. He actually possesses a very powerufl voice, but also agile and flexible, sometimes singing on purpose with less than its full strength (and there are good reasons to do so in solos, not just ensemble pieces). The ability to be light, on demand, is required.

< Händel's music <more difficult than Bach's'? Perhaps this is one reason why David Thomas has sung Bach so rarely - it may be too easy for him! >
A series of speculations based on reading what someone else said about the artist. Once more, Mr. Braatz: Have you actually heard David Thomas? "Listening" to a singer's reputation, without actually hearing what he sounds like, seems to me a pretty dubious technique for evaluation! Do you even know how much Bach he sang, or do you just know how much he recorded? True, his idscography features relatively few Bach pieces, but these include some of the major ones, such as BWV 82, SJP -- where he took both Christus and the bass arias -- and B minor Mass. Perhaps -- and here's my as-yet-unverified speculation -- he sang a lot more Bach in concerts....

Thomas Braatz wrote (December 15, 2003):
Uri Golomb stated: >>… sometimes singing on purpose with less than its full strength (and there are good reasons to do so in solos, not just ensemble pieces). The ability to be light, on demand, is required.<<
Essentially this is what I had stated: “Obviously this does not mean that such a [full] voice must sing this way all the time!” So we agree on this point after all. Sorry that you missed this point which I had anticipated and included since there are some readers who might misconstrue my main point by thinking only in extremes.

Uri asked: >>Do you even know how much Bach he sang, or do you just know how much he recorded? True, his idscography features relatively few Bach pieces, but these include some of the major ones, such as BWV 82, SJP -- where he took both Christus and the bass arias -- and B minor Mass. Perhaps -- and here's my as-yet-unverified speculation -- he sang a lot more Bach in concerts....<<
Obviously, not being privileged as you are to hear David Thomas in person or on radio broadcasts that never made it to records/CDs, I defer to your speculation that he sang more Bach than his discography implies. Actually, I was trying to make sense of Brad’s statement that Händel has “more difficult music than Bach’s” [extreme range being only one of many determining factors] which seems in the context of the discussion of David Thomas to imply that the latter would easily be able to sing Bach in such a manner that I would be trying to purchase as many of his [Thomas’] Bach recordings as possible because his voice and expressive interpretation would equal or surpass that of Hans Hotter.

Uri stated regarding my statements: >>A series of speculations based on reading what someone else said about the artist.<<
If “what someone else said about the artist” derives from a musical dictionary which has, as we can assume, strict ‘peer’-editing by musicological experts and is current, is worthless for beginning to form a personal opinion about a matter [you know as well as anyone else that I view the results of such musicological research and reporting with healthy skepticism], then I am left with only ‘opinions’ by you, Brad, and others from the academic community [specialized in music] who claim to know what is truly ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in performance standards. I feel rather uncomfortable with this thought.

Uri, I would much prefer to hear your opinion on the observation from the New Grove which I shared in my last posting:
>>Ironically, at least in the performance of classical music, the technology that made it possible to capture and disseminate the remarkable variety of singers' styles has tended to encourage stylistic norms and led to an increased internationalization and homogenization of sound production and performing practice.<<
How have singer’s voices and vocal styles been molded by the expectations that the HIP mvt. has brought about? Is this a good or bad phenomenon? If this is happening with singers, is this effect equally applicable to solo instrumentalists and baroque performance groups as well? Are these changes, based upon and initiated by musicological research, some of which is questionable in the least, leading to the best possible results for performers and listeners alike? [I am not attempting here to argue against change, but rather for well-considered changes based on well-considered evidence.]

Wang Xiao-yun wrote (December 16, 2003):
OT: Messiah by David Thomas and Others

[To Robert Sherman] Thanks for you helpful information.

Currently, I don't have access to the recordings you mentioned above. If Aryeh and other members don't have objection on this Haendel topic, I would be willing to hear some examples.


David Thomas: Short Biography | General Discussions

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Last update: ýDecember 18, 2003 ý20:24:28