Classics are, it seems, reissuing their complete back catalogue
of Erato and Teldec recordings. Recently a whole consignment
of early Thomas Hampson recitals, of which this Schumann
disc came my way, was put on the market. Having known most
of them from earlier incarnations, they are all attractive
acquisitions, especially at their new favourable prices.
What also has to be applauded is the documentation which
includes, in this case, a good essay on the music by Gerhard
Schuhmacher, in three languages, and also the complete song
texts with translations. Moreover it is all presented in
well-nigh the largest print I have ever encountered in a
first thought when starting the listening session was that
the acoustic of the Siemensvilla was over-reverberant. My
ears, or brain, soon adjusted to it as soon as I became engrossed
in the music-making. In fact I had the same feeling when
I resumed listening the next day. Clearly it is a bit on
the resonant side, but this doesn’t affect the clarity of
the sound, rather it gives an extra halo of warmth and the
balance is faultless. Behind the Steinway concert grand Geoffrey
Parsons presides. This discreet but ever-reliable musician
listens to his partner and carries the voice on his palms
- to make a laboured metaphor. The accompaniments are often
quite sparse in these songs but they are nonetheless telling.
As is often the case with Schumann, little interludes and
postludes are used to fine effect.
voice is recorded during its early bloom caught with its
surface completely unscratched. Not that it is particularly
scratched even today but it has lost some of its lightness
and easy delivery and has become greyer. This is something
I first noted on his Verdi recital a few years ago. Here,
in 1989, it is nimble, sappy, beautiful, perfectly controlled
and moving effortlessly between head-voice and chest-voice.
Now and then he resorts to falsetto, but it is so elegantly
done that one doesn’t mind.
could be argued that he is too laid back, too reticent and
not expressive enough with words. Compared to Fischer-Dieskau
he fails to words with the same emphasis, which on the other
hand is more a question of attitude or approach to Lieder
singing. Schumann would probably have recognized the songs
better in Hampson’s versions, where the melodic line becomes
the main carrier of the message. The message should come
through in musical terms, provided the singer enunciates
the text properly. This Hampson does, while still being very
careful with the musical line. Fischer-Dieskau sometimes
breaks the line through his stressing of words, even syllables,
in a more interventionist approach. One should remember that
before F-D Lieder singers seldom pointed the text so analytically.
Listen to Schlusnus, Hüsch and even Hotter, three great artists,
from roughly three different generations of Lieder singers.
I am second to none in my admiration of F-D, having regarded
him as the great idol - I don’t like the word but I couldn’t
find a better one - for as long as I can remember. In most
cases there is room for more than one approach and to my
mind F-D’s and Hampson’s readings are equally valid.
is a pity that these songs are not heard more often. Dichterliebe,
Frauenliebe und –Leben,
the two Liederkreis
frequently performed and recordings are legion, but the Zwölf
Gedichte von Justinus Kerner Op. 35
were also a result
of that remarkable Lieder-year 1840. The musical invention
and the melodic richness are on the same high level. The
five early songs, also settings of poems by Kerner, are agreeable
enough, and Hampson sings them with loving care. The five
Op. 40 songs, Andersen Lieder
, since they are settings
of Hans Christian Andersen, though translated from Danish
by Adalbert Chamisso, are fascinating, not least as poems.
Several of them have a surprising twist in the end. Muttertraum
interesting with its chromatics; the postlude almost belonging
in the early 20th
century. Der Soldat
Soldier) marches powerfully and decisively towards the tragic
end, Der Spielmann
(The Minstrel) dances quite happily
but the end is melancholy. Verratene Liebe
is all joy.
twelve Kerner songs Op. 35 are the main attraction, though,
and any Lieder lover who has not yet made their acquaintance
should hasten to the nearest dealer or place an order with
some internet retailer. They cover the whole spectrum from
inward stillness to the most outgoing drama and Hampson has
musical intelligence and the required vocal means to express
all this. I would go as far as saying that he is the supreme
lyrical baritone to have emerged during the last 25 years
or so. I am not going to comment on every individual song,
but point to some highlights. The first song; Lust der
(track 6) is a powerful tribute to the powers
of nature, showing that Hampson has all the required vocal
heft. He never goes over the top but is very near it. The
text is not one for the weak-hearted: “The rain pours down
and the tempest howls … travellers are lost at night …”. Auf
das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes
in its dark solemnity becomes almost a sermon, delivered
by Hampson with hushed intensity. Stille Liebe
13, 14) are sincere with fine interludes and postludes. In Stille
(track 15) the singer builds each long phrase
in one unbroken line, dynamics perfectly controlled, reaching
a climax in the last stanza on “und morgens dann ihr meinet” with
almost unbearable intensity. Parson’s postlude brings the
listener back to normal pulse after this hair-raising suspense.
Masterly singing of a masterly song! The two last songs (tracks
16, 17) are both inward, sung as near-whispers.
two last songs on the disc, also Kerner settings from late
in Schumann’s life, are not quite as inspired as the 1840
songs, but are good to have anyway.
think it’s obvious that I liked this recital very much and
I have no qualms about recommending it with enthusiasm.