CARNEGIE HALL | Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen & Symphony #7

[program for the New York premiere of Mahler’s 7th, from the Carnegie Hall archives]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 8 PM
STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN, cond. Daniel Barenboim
Thomas Hampson, Baritone

MAHLER | Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen & Symphony No. 7

I will never know the Seventh well enough, but strongly suspect that Barenboim could know it better, too. At least he took a score with him to the podium this time. His Fifth had seemed to me ‘indefatigable,’ and it was true enough last night as well that the musicians kept going, and going. But rarely did the music, amid all that music-making, much soar, or move, or shape. I almost haven’t the heart to review the memory thereof, and since coming home have had to listen to a few recorded accounts (Bernstein, Tennstedt, Abbado) just to revive a sense of this work’s revelations.

With his reading of the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, which opened the program, Hampson proved the more satisfying of the two Thomases this series, if not the most memorable Mahlerian wayfarer one can imagine. His voice settled into the songs with assured familiarity, and issued notes richer and most robust than those we’ve been hearing from Quasthoff. Occasionally, though, perhaps in an interpretive affect of simplicity, he moved from note to note with a strange discreteness that seemed to prioritize note-intoning over line-contouring. This, too, entirely differed from Quastoff’s way of sliding toward a note then skimming upon its surface. The alarming exception to Hampson’s mastery was an alteration to the first verse of ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ that switched a crucial craning note to one several notes lower—an untoward, if helpless, falsification. This bizarre moment aside, he remained a trusty presence, and it was a pleasure to see him perform as capably and comfortably in-role here as I’ve seen him at the Met, whether as Don Giovanni or Amfortas or Onegin.

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