x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn

A review of Thomas Hampson's Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn - a famed interpreter of the composer, Hampson's voice is exquisite on this CD.

Deutsche Grammophon
****

This album offers a welcome reminder, after a year replete with recordings and performances of Mahler symphonies to celebrate his 150th anniversary in 2010, of the great Austro-Bohemian composer's other great compositional preoccupation: song.

Of course, in Mahler's vision, song and symphony are intimately connected, with themes from a number of his songs set to the German folk poems of Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn, edited by Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano) reappearing in his early-period symphonies.

Equally, these songs, unlike the piano-accompanied lieder that are more common in the Romantic canon, are set to an orchestra, albeit not such an expansive one as the symphonies demand. While the orchestrations are every bit as rich as those in his other works, here a more transparent texture is achieved by the use of a chamber-sized ensemble made up of the leaders of the Vienna Philharmonic.

This, indeed, is where the American baritone Thomas Hampson succeeds in creating a genuinely important album for followers of the composer, for it is his extensive Mahlerian scholarship that has led to this particular orchestral configuration - which he himself conducts while singing - and it certainly feels authentic.

A famed interpreter of Mahler, his voice is exquisite here. For non-German speakers it is worth obtaining translations of the poems for full appreciation of their lyricism.