MAHLER Das Lied von der Erde • Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Stuart Skelton (ten); Thomas Hampson (bar); San Francisco SO • SFS MEDIA 60019 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 63:20) Live: San Francisco 9/26–29/2007
I’ve not seen it, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume that Christopher Abbot’s assessment of this release is as positive as mine. Michael Tilson Thomas’s Das Lied von der Erde is surely one of the greatest Mahler performances in recorded history and,Read more though we’ve yet to hear the mighty Eighth, it’s likely to be the crowning jewel of a series that has already produced several indispensable renditions, and no duds.
For six years now, I’ve provided the “color commentary” to Abbot’s more substantial “play-by-play” of the MTT cycle, focusing on the sonic attributes of the recordings, and I’ll start there. The two voices are beautifully characterized; in the 5.0 surround version, they are corporeal presences, naturally scaled without any artificial spotlighting. The multichannel is conservatively executed, with nothing from the rear speakers calling attention to itself. (The audience evidently sat in rapt silence at the end of “Der Abschied,” so it was unnecessary to include any applause.) The orchestra breathes comfortably in the warm and clarifying acoustic of Davies Hall—there’s excellent layering of the musicians in front of you and loads of detail. As a single example of the level of verisimilitude accomplished here, listen to Thomas Hampson’s first entrance in the final movement, basically just singer and solo flute. The size differential of the two voices and their position on stage relative to one another is perfectly rendered.
But as good as the sound is, it’s the performance that makes this SACD utterly essential. Tilson Thomas comes as close to anyone in achieving Mahler’s ideal of a symphony/song hybrid, with the orchestra imparting as much meaning as the two vocalists. A non-German speaker, coming to Das Lied von der Erde for the first time, without a libretto, would know exactly what the work was “about.” In his movements, Stuart Skelton sings with power, control, and an acute responsiveness to the texts. But MTT’s costar here, undeniably, is Thomas Hampson, who has shown himself to be a great Mahler interpreter since early in his career. (Hampson can look back on his youthful collaborations with Leonard Bernstein with considerable pride.) “Der Abscheid” will be treasured by all lovers of great singing, a magnificent instrument placed in the service of deeply communicative music. When Hampson sings “Die liebe Erde allüberall Blüht auf im Lenz und grunt Auf’s neu!” (Everywhere, the beloved earth blooms in the spring and is newly green!), it’s an extraordinarily life-affirming moment that will make your heart soar.
Well before the last note of “Der Abschied” died away, I knew this Das Lied would one day qualify as Hall of Fame material.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Read less
Works on This Recording
Das Lied von der Erdeby Gustav Mahler
Thomas Hampson (Baritone),
Stuart Skelton (Tenor)
Michael Tilson Thomas
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1908-1909; Vienna, Austria