I hardly know where to begin. This DVD, a recital done by baritone Thomas Hampson and pianist Wolfram Rieger, is so wonderful that it's hard to know what to spotlight. First, since this review is appearing before Amazon has listed the lieder sung by Hampson, I'll do that. This is an all-Mahler concert with most of the lieder coming from the 'Knaben Wunderhorn' songs set for singer and piano by Mahler between 1872 and 1901. He set about 25 of them; this concert includes fifteen or so. They are in three groups: 'Frühlingsmorgen,' 'Ablösung im Sommer,' 'Rheinlegendchen,' 'Lob des hohen Verstandes,' and 'Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,' followed by 'Aus! Aus!,' 'Starke Einbildungskraft,' 'Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz,' and 'Revelge,' and concluding with 'Der Tambourg'sell,' 'Lied des Verfolgten im Turm,' 'Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,' 'Das irdische Leben,' 'Das himmlische Leben,' and finally, 'Urlicht.' The only non-Wunderhorn song is the first one.
Hampson is an absolutely first-rate actor without being hammy (although there have been some who criticize him in this regard, I am not one of them; I believe that he so truly believes what he is singing that his acting is, rather, 'being'). Further, he is in absolute control of his voice in passages from those that call for the most dramatic outbursts to those that are soft and tender. His understanding and conveying of the texts is uncanny. In 'Revelge,' for instance, one can picture the dead soldiers rising from their graves to help the soldier serenade his betrothed. In 'Lied des Verfolgten im Turm' he convinces us of the horror of the condemned prisoner in the tower. In 'Das himmlische Leben,' which we are perhaps more used to hearing sung with innocence by a lyric soprano in the last movement of the Fourth Symphony, is more richly conveyed with its simultaneous naïveté and irony by Hampson. Just as convincingly portrayed is the bitterness in 'Das irdische Leben,' Mahler's homage to Schubert's 'Der Erkönig,' with its dialog between the starving child and its mother's desperate reassurances. Indeed, all the songs here are presented with much the same kind of artistry. The preternaturally still and pianissimo finale, 'Urlicht,' (perhaps more familiar in its guise as the fourth movement of the Second Symphony) must be heard to be believed. It is incredibly moving.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the superb contribution by the piano accompanist, Wolfram Rieger. From experience I know that Mahler's piano scores are incredibly difficult to put across, partly because they are often awkwardly written, require virtuosic control of dynamics and tempi, and have stretches of spare writing that must nonetheless seem to continue to resound as if the piano were capable of sustaining a tone over time. Rieger not only manages this with skill, he also is fully an equal partner in conveying the emotional tone of each song. Hampson is lucky to have found such a sensitive collaborator. There is no question that Hampson is one of our very finest recitalists, and this team of Hampson and Rieger deserves to be considered in the same light as such legendary partnerships as, say, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore.
This beautifully filmed concert took place in the elegant Théâtre Musical de Paris - Châtelet and the DVD is part of a growing collection of simply wonderful song Châtelet recitals with such artists as Dawn Upshaw, Grace Bumbry, Barbara Bonney, Anne-Sofie von Otter and others.