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Mahler: Songs With Orchestra / Graham, Hampson, Tilson Thomas

Mahler / Graham / Hampson / Sfs / Thomas
Release Date: 09/14/2010 
Label:  San Francisco Symphony   Catalog #: 60036  
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas HampsonSusan Graham
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MAHLER Rückert-Lieder. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. Des Knaben Wunderhorn: 5 Lieder Michael Tilson Thomas, cond; Susan Graham (mez); Thomas Hampson (bar); San Francisco SO SFS MEDIA 821936-0036-2 (SACD: 64:57) Live: San Francisco 5/2007; 9/2009


With this new CD, the San Francisco Symphony Mahler Project reaches its conclusion. The recording also concludes the SFSO survey of Mahler’s orchestral songs: earlier releases offered Das Read more Lied von der Erde , the Kindertotenlieder (sung by Michelle DeYoung, in the set with the Third Symphony), and the reissue of the RCA recording of Das Klagende Lied . The only quibble I have is the omission of two-thirds of the Wunderhorn songs, especially since Thomas Hampson hasn’t yet recorded the complete set in its orchestral setting; I can’t imagine that a two-disc set would have been a deal-breaker for most listeners.


Hampson’s authority in the songs of Mahler is second only to that of Fischer-Dieskau (perhaps by now, on par), and is surely unquestioned. The only issue for listeners, then, will be how the older Hampson measures up against his own earlier recordings, some nearly 25 years old. His DG recording of the Wayfarer songs, accompanied by Leonard Bernstein (with the Vienna Philharmonic, no less), is available in many different versions (there is also a set of these songs on a live LPO CD with Tennstedt, paired with the First Symphony).


Bernstein’s treatment is almost Wagnerian in its sumptuousness and generally slower tempos, so a little leavening doesn’t go amiss. Tilson Thomas’s tempos and the leaner quality of both the orchestra and the sound production are a salubrious corrective (the sound production is by no means anemic; it is just less plush and more detailed than that of the older DG). There is little noticeable difference in Hampson’s voice or delivery; though the higher notes take a bit more effort, they seldom sound labored, and the falsetto is still quite silky; the character of the interpretation is the same balance of character, animation, and precision, never stooping to archness. In short, this is a fine performance of Mahler’s first real “Mahler” work.


The Wunderhorn songs, with the exception of “Urlicht,” are all “soldier” songs and therefore make a sensible and satisfying group, if they must be separated from the rest. Hampson has performed these songs many times, yet they sound fresh. His isn’t the heroic baritone of Fischer-Dieskau (with Szell, EMI), but there is power as well as sensitivity here, the latter especially when voicing the female characters. His version of “Urlicht” is unique in my experience. As with the baritone version of Das Lied , there’s no reason why this song can’t be as effective when sung by the male voice, and when that voice is Hampson’s, the result is moving as well as unusual.


For comparison with Susan Graham’s performance of Rückert-Lieder , I turned to the very best. Janet Baker’s recording with Sir John Barbirolli on EMI is now more than 40 years old, but for many it is the gold standard for these songs (a fascinating comparison can also be made between these two artists accompanied by Tilson Thomas: Baker sang the songs for inclusion with MTT’s Mahler Third on Sony). Graham’s voice is lighter in timbre than Baker’s dusky mezzo, and Graham’s vibrato is just as quick and unobtrusive. The main difference in the two interpretations is Graham’s generally more animated characterizations—Baker tends to deliver the songs straight, though not without nuance. I can make no qualitative judgment between these two beautiful voices, nor would I wish to. Tilson Thomas provides a much livelier accompaniment than Barbirolli, and the SFSO delivers a performance of chamber-like delicacy, or full-throated power, where it is called for.


Those readers who have been following the SFSO Mahler Project will need no endorsement from me to purchase this new CD; other prospective buyers should rest assured that it deserves the highest recommendation.


FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

1.
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1896; Germany 
2.
Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
3.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: no 8, Lied des Verfolgten im Turm by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; Vienna, Austria 
4.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: no 14, Der Tamboursg'sell by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany 
5.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: no 9, Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany 
6.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: no 13, Revelge by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany 
7.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn: no 12, Urlicht by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Susan Graham (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1898; Hamburg, Germany 

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