Switzerland Schumann, Mahler: Thomas Hampson (baritone), Wolfram Rieger (piano), Théâtre des Nations, Geneva, 13.09.2016. (ALL)
After yesterday’s Manon, it was a nice to return to the same venue with such an enlightening concert. Just before his encores, Thomas Hampson addressed the audience saying that it was also special for him to come back to Geneva after so many years. He said with a smile in the voice that he had met a nice lady who told him she sang in the children chorus of La bohème … some 30 years ago.
Yes, even for an artist like Hampson, there are signs of time passing. Some grey hair on the side and maybe a little less colour in the higher register when singing piano … But the charisma, the warmth and depth of the personality, and much of the quality of the voice has the same commanding presence.
The Schumann song cycle was presented not as Dichterliebe but as songs from the Lyrischen Intermezzo Buch der Lieder’ after Heine, Hampson specifying that it was closer to Schumann’s original text. Once Hampson had settled his voice and along with Wolfram Rieger had found the exact balance with the piano in the Théâtre des Nations, the overall characterisation and care for the words were marvels. The long standing partnership between both artists meant that they could find expressive freedom while being attuned to each other, a sure sign being the piano dynamic larger than what lieder accompanists provide matching Hampson’s range.
The second half gave us the baritone in the repertory he is simply peerless. If the Schumann cycle is mostly from a single person perspective, Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn are a collection of small operas in miniature where the singer is portraying various roles. These are Mahler’s most theatrical songs. Hampson with his range and expressiveness revelled in them and showed the worlds of depth and imagination there are behind the seemingly simple marches and folk-music Mahler uses. Technically, they fitted him like a glove allowing him to shine in his middle register and requiring less head voice than the Schumann.
Mahler aficionados could make a guess that both artists had listened to the two classic Welte-Mignon Piano Rolls featuring the composer himself and: ‘Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald’ and the Fourth Symphony last movement ‘Das himmlische Leben’ as they were following his rubato and care for expressivity.
This was an evening of supreme distinction. The audience was unusually mesmerized and concentrated. Hampson before his encores also explained that this concert was for the benefit of the ‘Gustav Mahler Médiathèque’ – a must see at http://www.mediathequemahler.org/ – established by his friend and ultimate Mahler Scholar Henry-Louis de La Grange to whom he dedicated the two superb encore: ‘Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!’ and ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ from the Rückert Lieder.
There will be later many recitals at the Théâtre des Nations from the likes of Camilla Nylund, Christian Gerharer, Karita Mattila, Patricia Petibon but by the time we hear better Mahler singing, we will all be ‘Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen’ and the composer will be conducting.