RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Gustav MAHLER (1860 - 1911)
Songs with Orchestra
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
1. Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht [4:08]
2. Ging heut’ Morgen übers Feld [4:08]
3. Ich hab’ ein glühend’ Messer [3:12]
4. Die zwei blauen Augen [5:14]
5. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft [2:38]
6. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder [1:20]
7. Liebst du um Schönheit [2:40]
8. Um Mitternacht [6:28]
9. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen [6:43]
Selections from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
10. Lied des verfolgten im Turm [3:54]
11. Der Tambourg’sell [5:34]
12. Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen [6:54]
13. Revelge [6:24]
14. Urlicht [5:16]
Susan Graham (mezzo) (5-9); Thomas Hampson (baritone) (1-4; 10-14)
San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
rec. live, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, 23, 25-26 September 2009 (1-4); 16-20 September 2009 (5-9); 10-13 May 2007 (11-14)
Sung texts with English and German translations enclosed
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 821936-0036-2 [64:57]
Michael Tilson Thomas has been hailed for his Mahler symphony cycle. When he now turns to some of the orchestral songs expectations are bound to be high. Recorded in the orchestra’s own Symphony Hall in acoustics they are so familiar with the sound is glowing but in no way over-bright and the playing is utterly confident. Tempos tend to be on the slow side. Whether this is down to the conductor’s decision or that of the singers is hard to know but there is no sense of sagging. Thomas Hampson delivers the songs allotted to him with an interpretative insight that has deepened through the years. This places him among a select group of singers whose recordings connoisseurs will return to for reference in the future.
He has always been a fine interpreter of songs but now in his mid-50s his long experience has guided him to find even more varied vocal colours and nuances. His voice has aged, but not in an unpleasant way. It has lost something of its youthful sheen and acquired a somewhat wider vibrato on sustained notes. Even so his honeyed pianissimos and biting fortissimos are still there. He recorded Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with his mentor Leonard Bernstein at the beginning of his career and that has always been one the most recommendable versions. Here he comes even closer to the core of the songs. Just listen to the marvellous end of Ging heut’ Morgen (tr. 2). Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer (tr. 3) has intensity comparable to that of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and I can give no higher praise. The pain is palpable. Actually his timbre is sometimes is very similar to that of the older singer. Die zwei blauen Augen, possibly the finest of the songs, is so touching and reminds me of an even older German baritone, Heinrich Schlusnus.
The Wunderhorn songs are also marvellously alive. Hampson is a distinguished story-teller in these dark settings of likewise dark poems and throughout there is an autumnal feeling. It seems that everything Hampson touches at this stage of his career turns to gold. The conclusion of the recital, and the crowning glory of the whole programme, Urlicht, is sung with the vocal equivalent to what Germans call ‘Fingerspitzengefühl’. We are used to hear it in the penultimate movement of the Second Symphony there sung by a contralto, but Hampson’s reading makes one forget this association.
The five Rückert songs are also among Mahler’s most personal creations - but which songs are not? - and they are sung with deep commitment by Susan Graham. She doesn’t peer as deep as Hampson, even though her Ich bin der Welt is sublime. But there is something too generalized about these readings that ends up making them not quite competitive with the best mezzo recordings. For me Janet Baker and Brigitte Fassbaender reign supreme.
Still Susan Graham’s efforts are far from negligible and with Hampson’s superb readings of his songs this is a disc that would have been a candidate for inclusion among my Recordings of the Year, had it arrived a little earlier.
A disc that would have been a candidate for inclusion among my Recordings of the Year, had it arrived a little earlier.