Sunday, 1 July 2012

Franz Crass, 1928-2012

The death was announced last Saturday of the great German bass Franz Crass. He had been bed-ridden since an accident last year and had been confined to a care home in Hochheim am Main since early last autumn. He had been forced to give up singing in 1981 because of hearing problems, but was a Bayreuth stalwart for many years, having first sung there in 1954 and given a breakthrough performance as the Dutchman in the 1960 season. Here's the monologue, from a 1961 performance, with Sawallisch conducting.

I'd been reacquainted with Crass's singing recently, too, when, in part inspired by the death of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I'd finally bought Karl Böhm's classic Magic Flute. Fischer-Dieskau's Papageno and Fritz Wunderlich's Tamino are joined by some extravagantly-cast singers in secondary roles: having James King and Martti Talvela as the Armed Men is the male-cast equivalent to the Schwarzkopf-Ludwig-Höffgen trio of ladies in Klemperer's EMI set, on which Crass is also the Speaker. But in such exalted company Crass's Sarastro stands out for his nobility, solidity and beautiful smoothness. The rather brilliant Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera puts it in straightforward terms: 'Franz Crass is as good a Sarastro as we have ever had on a complete set.' There's clearly not much more than can be said than that, for Alan Blyth is content to make more or less the same observation in his Opera on Record, writing that 'Franz Crass is arguably the best Sarastro on record: sonorous, easy of delivery, entirely credible'. 

In fact, the more I trawl through a gratifyingly large selection of clips on YouTube, the more it becomes clear that this was an artist who barely put a foot wrong, making a fantastic Commendatore (this clip, was clearly put together by a Ghiaurov fan, though)...

And, of course, a glorious Pogner. 

And, although I a quick bit of googling leaves me unsure whether he sang Sachs on stage, he certainly seems to have had what that role required, too. 

And here is something a bit rarer: Crass singing Verdi:

I've not noticed any obituaries yet in the UK press. I hope he gets at least one or two, because there can be little doubt of his position of one of the greatest basses of the second half of the 20th century. 

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