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The allegorical aspects of the Wunderhorn songs are explained on their prophetic merit, in interviews with Hampson, and it is these allegorical associations he seeks to bring across with his performance that is always part oration, part song. To share his profound understanding of Mahler, and of the Wunderhorn in particular, Hampson does not shy away from somewhat unusual interpretations as he goes right to the origin of a song and, with great abandon and considerable talent, for instance manages to imitate the iah sound of a donkey. It is a hoot, but Hampson is dead serious about a donkey having to sound like a donkey, whether it is in a Mahler song or not.

Ordinarily, when watching a recital like that, whether on DVD or live, you get a more or less talented singer in a suit, doing his stuff. With Hampson, one gets much more. You still get a guy in a suit on stage, singing, but you also get a musical universe that orbits around the sun that is Mahler, and so the Wunderhorn cycle breaks out of its musical confines and becomes something more than a mere arrangement of songs. It grows into an organic, living entity that concerns all of us individually. It really does not matter whether you usually like Mahler or not. Hampson is so gifted at 'selling' the wonders of Mahler that, so long as you are human and dealing with the normal problems that humans are facing, you are likely to get something out of this performance and to see Mahler with new eyes.

The baritone has organized the Wunderhorn songs in such a fashion as to bring his own understanding of Mahler, as a composer who conducted a systematic investigation of all matters concerning life and the universe and the creatures living therein including ourselves as human beings, closer to the audience. He does so without coming across as opinionated or arrogant. Rather, he manages to seize the opportunity of handling Mahler's song cycle in a way that jumps back and forth between seriousness and sarcasm and may sometimes sadden while, at other times, providing the most delightful confrontations with the irreconcilable contrasts of funny and difficult moments in human life. The Wunderhorn, explained and performed by Hampson who is somewhat of a Mahler Spokesperson in today's modern time, is -- once you have acclimatized yourself to the emotionally charged performance style -- an authoritative and ultimately positive journey, by association, into the workings of Mahler's mind.

The perhaps best-known Wunderhorn Lied, Rheinlegendchen (1893), which is also one of the trademark songs of Hampson, is in the first part. Having seen this particular song performed live when Hampson was in Munich for the ARD Easter Concert, the DVD performance pales in comparison. Overall, the songs in parts 1 and 2 are always moving back and forth between delightful moments sprinkled with some learning, text-wise, and characterized by artistic perfection on the interpretative parts of Hampson and Rieger who is a true master at the piano keys.

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Copyright © 3 July 2004 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany


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