‘Doch meine Saiten tönen/Nur Liebe im Erklingen!’ (‘But my strings sound out only love in their tones!’) sings the bard in Schubert’s An die Leier, the third track on my Disc of the Week. It’s a sentiment which certainly resounds throughout this innovative and warm-hearted collaboration between American baritone Thomas Hampson and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, which places Samuel Barber’s setting of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach alongside eleven songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf in new arrangements for voice and strings by the British composer David Matthews (whose work includes arrangements of Mahler songs in partnership with his brother Colin as well as eight symphonies and thirteen string quartets).
Hampson and the ensemble are old friends (they first worked together in the 1990s, and their projects together have included a chamber version of Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn); the programme was put together for a European concert-tour in spring 2014, and arose from a desire to augment the rather scant repertoire for baritone and ensemble (even Dover Beach, the only work on the disc to include strings in the original scoring, is ‘upscaled’ here from the composer’s setting for voice and string quartet).
The results have immediate appeal and integrity, with the new timbres always enhancing rather than obfuscating the text, and striking a quite wonderful balance between fidelity to the spirit of the originals and little touches of happy anachronism here and there: the wide-open spacing of the chords in the second stanza of the first song (Wolf’s raptly pastoral Auf einer Wanderung, brought to quivering life here with breathless tremolos and surging glissandi) rather put me in mind of Vaughan Williams’s fantasias, whilst elsewhere the writing evokes the atmosphere of Britten’s Simple Symphony and the string serenades of Elgar and Tchaikovsky. The macabre glee of Wolf’s Der Rattenfänger (a distinctly adult incarnation of The Pied Piper) is captured with particular relish, all scurrying pizzicati and wiry sul ponticello (playing near the bridge of the instrument) effects as the itinerant musician-cum-pest-controller (appropriately enough, another string-player!) chases down vermin and erotic conquests alike with wily grace.
On this week’s episode of He Sang/She Sang, hosts Merrin Lazyan and Julian Fleisher are joined by dramaturg Cori Ellison to discuss Verdi’s mythical and timeless masterpiece, La Traviata. We also speak with baritone Thomas Hampson, who has been singing the role of Germont for 25 years. Hampson tells us how the complex and beautiful dilemmas that we find in this opera help us to better understand who we really are.
Picks from across the week on In Tune with Sean Rafferty: opera singers Thomas Hampson, Michael Fabiano and Tara Erraught …
Back in 2007, baritone Thomas Hampson gave a Distance Learning Voice Master Class at the Manhattan School of Music. In commemoration of the 10th anniversary of that event, the American singer and the renowned conservatory are rejoining forces for the same program.
“Thomas Hampson is a proper stuffed-shirt as Alfredo’s father Germont senior as he persuades Violetta to leave his son for the sake of the family honor and adding a fine “Di Provenza il mar,” one of the great baritone arias, in Act II.”
Wilborn Hampton – Huffington Post
“It’s not only the singing of baritone Thomas Hampson, on top form, that makes this recital so enjoyable; it’s the affectionate new string arrangements, joyously played by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta – as leader Candida Thompson describes it, “a big string quartet” of two dozen players. All but one of the arrangements are by David Matthews, who adds texture and illumination to already radiant songs, refreshing these lilies without gilding them. Intertwining solo violins make the opening of Wolf’s song Anakreons Grab magical; squeaking strings conjure up the rodents in his Der Rattenfänger. Another highlight is Bob Zimmerman’s gossamer version of Schubert’s Ständchen (“Zögernd leise”), the echoes sung by a girls’ choir. Brahms’s Four Serious Songs find Matthews drawing on darker sonorities. Hampson, full of authority, ends on Barber’s masterly Dover Beach, which seems only to benefit from its quartet parts being lent the weight and security of a full string orchestra.”
Erica Jeal – The Guardian
On March 15 at 4pm ET, Thomas Hampson returns to the Manhattan School of Music to lead his 10th Annual Master Class and Live Webcast. The live stream will be available to watch via dl.msmnyc.edu/live, with an archived broadcast available online following the event (details TBA). The 2016 Master Class can now be enjoyed at the following link; complete program details from that Master Class are also listed online in PDF format.
In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.