An evening full of Hampsongs
by SISSY VON KOTZEBUE
37,700 links come up on Google when searching for 'Thomas Hampson'. Ok, that's not as much as for 'Maria Callas' (121,000), but he is working on his myth. He's one step closer since his recital in Munich's Herkulessaal on 15 July 2004 -- and the name of this famous hall is a pretty good symbol for Hampson's Herculean performance.
The setting for Thomas Hampson and Wolfram Rieger's Munich recital. Photo © 2004 Sissy von Kotzebue
'Oooh, doesn't he look like an ancient hero!' sighs an elderly lady (her husband grumbles), when Hampson comes on stage. Indeed, tall and strong, full of energy and self-confidence, he has an overwhelming stage presence. Wolfram Rieger, the world-famous accompanist Hampson teamed up with in 1995, takes his place behind the Steinway. Sold out from the first day of announcement, the concert hall has been filled to over-capacity. The organizer has even placed a few rows of seats on the stage itself, behind the piano, which must have been somewhat irritating for the artists. For a few seconds, one could hear a pin drop. Hampson closes his eyes in concentration, breathes deeply. Everyone leans forward, thrilled, the audience giving the impression of a thousand-leafed flower closing its blossoms in expectation of the storm. All eyes are on the hero of the evening who is now starting to sing. His voice is powerful and he knows his own worth.
Hampson and Rieger have chosen three composers for the evening: Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss. Im Rhein im schönen Strome is Hampson's opening song. The Heinrich Heine poem it's based on tells the story of a man regarding a picture of Mary who resembles his beloved. A bit passionate, then religious, then funny again, Hampson illustrates the story with the subtle colours of his voice.
The following Lieder are as dramatic as can be. 'Poisoned are my songs' could be the headline for all of them. Hampson displays the enormous possibilities of his voice particularly well in the last song of that set, Die drei Zigeuner ('The three gypsies'). Liszt, composer of the Hungarian Rhapsodies, presents the sound patterns of gypsy music with their harmonic minor scale specialities, the Csàrdàs rhythm and cymbal-reminiscent strains. Here, Hampson can show off the adaptability of his voice. When he sings about the three vagabonds, victims of their fate, who despise the world, there is so much darkness in his timbre that the audience hardly dares to applaud afterwards.
Copyright © 24 July 2004
Sissy von Kotzebue, Munich, Germany