Aside from a couple of early attempts at chamber music, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) wrote only symphonies, songs and song cycles. Friday's nasty weather brought a small turnout for one of the finest exponents of Mahler singing we could have hoped for.
I can only presume most of these people were avid Mahler lovers, as their response to baritone Thomas Hampson's singing five chosen songs from the composer's cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) was electric. The standing applause continued long enough that Hampson, podium guest Joana Carneiro and her scaled-back orchestra gave them a sixth song from the cycle, the short, utterly delightful "Rheinlegendchen."
Born in Elkhart, Ind., Hampson was raised in Spokane, Wash. He became a scholar in the German folk and art song -- and a Mahler specialist. His interview with Michael Toulouse during the pre-concert Words on Music revealed a consummate background in the Austro-Germanic styles and traditions. What he failed to mention, however, which I thought the audience would have found of interest, is that these songs are sung -- with necessary pitch shifting -- by both baritones and sopranos, with recordings of the complete cycle of twelve Wunderhorn songs often mixing both vocal compasses.
Another omission in Hampson's discussion was that two of his selected songs were transferred to movements of two Mahler symphonies: The fourth song, "Das himmlische Leben" ("The Heavenly Life") became the final movement from his Symphony No. 4 in G--always calling for a soprano, and a larger orchestra. His fifth song, "Urlicht" ("Primal Light") was used as the fourth movement in Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony (No. 2 in C Minor).
Hampson -- and Carneiro (a native of Portugal) -- gave us a vivid portrayal of the Mahler song style, Hampson modulating his voice to perfection, and the orchestra, with mostly reduced strings, showing its matching colors. There is a longing projected in much of Mahler . . . for something beyond the everyday, for what lies ahead -- no better exemplified than in "Das himmlische Leben."
As the harp plunks its way into silence in the key of D major (E major at the Fourth Symphony's end), there is an ineffable sadness, a yearning that is far more telling to me than the overwrought, almost maudlin way Mahler's later works -- the Ninth Symphony and the song cycle Das Lied von der Erde -- deal with his death obsession. In any case, the audience was clearly moved. I heard that one young lady was in tears as she stood in line at the break for a Hampson autograph.
Though vigorously applauded, the post-intermission selection failed at being the success of the Mahler: Schumann's Symphony No. 2 in C, Op. 61 -- with the full orchestra back on stage. Of the composer's four symphonies, the second is perhaps the least familiar, though its third movement, an Adagio espressivo, is the most moving, most heartfelt slow movement in Schumann's orchestral oeuvre. And Carneiro and her players achieved the most success with it, revealing all its manifest beauties in a carefully nuanced reading.
Its three faster movements showed a bit more raggedness and imprecision, especially at the symphony's start. However, the "famously" difficult string work in the following Scherzo, taken at a "safe" tempo, was rewarded with a goodly amount of precision.
In any case, those who decided to visit the Circle that evening appeared more than rewarded for their effort. Feb. 22; Hilbert Circle Theatre
[A+E] Classical Music
[A+E] Classical Music, Jazz + Blues + R&B