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The songs of the third section are out of this world, adding the essential visual aspect to the euphonious we know of Hampson from his Wunderhorn CD already: Das Irdische Leben (1893), a chilling song about the slow death of a child, is preceded by a Hampson interview about the nature of the mother-child relationship and provides one of the absolute highlights of the DVD. Acted out, not just sung, by the baritone with the one-in-a-million voice, the song's final words are delivered with a heart-felt accusation against life that frequently puts off granting people the bare essentials until it is too late. Das Irdische Leben is a dialogue between a mother and her gradually starving child who keeps begging her to save him. Each time the child sings, or rather cries out: 'Give me bread or I'll die', another day has passed and he is one step closer to the grave. The mother puts him off: until the harvest, until the threshing of the corn, until the baking of the bread. The child keeps crying out for food. Hampson sings this repetitive part with ever-increasing urgency, acting out the part of the evanescent child so desperately struggling to stay alive. He does it so unbearably well that one wants to throw him a piece of bread just to shut up the anguished, wretched begging. The song ends, predictably, with the child dead and Hampson with eyes closed, a big frown on his face, and mouth turned downwards.

'What you do with the mother is a bit tricky,' Hampson explains on the DVD. 'You have to decide whether she is a good person or a bad person or whether she's caught in the same fate. I think what is more striking is how Mahler set this in this sort of trashing machine ... chacka, chacka, chacka ... these motions, perpetual, that have a very machine-like sound to it and it kind of mills them both up and spits them out.'

Urlicht (1893), which forms the final song of the cycle, was later used in the fourth movement of Mahler's second symphony. It is a highly emotional song about the transience of earthly life and one believes Hampson when he sings: 'I am from God and shall return to God. Dear God will give me a little light, will light my way to the eternal holy life.'

Whenever they perform the Wunderhorn songs together, Hampson and Rieger usually choose this particular song to end their performance. Rieger, in his very charming, Bavarian-accented English, explains, and invents a new English word along the way: 'Our last song, Urlicht, is a special experience also for us. Sometimes it's difficult to keep back your own emotions, not to go too far, because you still have to play. It is like a very wonderful final button. We chose it because it is so wunderhornian.'

Hampson elaborates, explaining that Urlicht is a song that brings us closer '... to believing that, in fact, one comes from God and goes back home to God and it is always God that will make your path a circle, or a spiral up, to complete what it is that you are as a human being. That the divine is actually in all of us, that we must allow ourselves to be awakened to our God and this is what gives us transcendence from the temporal life.'

Rieger, who is famous in his own right, rarely gives interviews. So this is a delightful chance for an encounter with a man who is known as one of the best accompanists performing in the world today. On the DVD, Rieger comes across as a thoughtful and sensitive musician, full of modesty and insightful remarks.

For the lighter tastes, Parts 1 and 2 provide a good mix of humour and learning and, all in all, one is left with the impression that this performance of the Wunderhorn songs is precisely the kind of performance that Mahler envisioned when he set these poems to music.

Copyright © 3 July 2004 Tess Crebbin, Munich, Germany

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Voices of Our Time - Thomas Hampson. Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth's Magic Horn) and Lieder and Gesänge aus der Jugendzeit

5 450270 010691 DVD EUR NEW RELEASE 86'26" 2004 TDK Mediactive

Thomas Hampson, baritone; Wolfram Rieger, piano

Part 1: Fables and Parables of Nature and Man (Frühlingsmorgen (1882); Ablösung im Sommer (1887-1890); Rheinlegendchen (1893); Lob des Hohen Verstandes (1896); Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (1893)); Part 2: Humoresques and Ballads - Scenes of Separation and War (Aus! Aus! (1887-1890); Starke Einbildungskraft (1887-1890); Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz (1887-1890); Revelge (1899)); Part 3: Ballads and Allegories - Transcendence of Life (Der Tamboursg'sell (1901); Lied des Verfolgten im Turm (1898); Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen (1898); Das irdische Leben (1893); Das himmlische Leben (1892); Urlicht (1893))

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WOLFRAM RIEGER

THOMAS HAMPSON

JASON STARR'S 'WHAT THE UNIVERSE TELLS ME'

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