Thomas Hampson / Wiener Virtuosen

Mahler: Des Knaben Wunderhorn

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This distinguished album features renowned baritone Thomas Hampson with the stellar Wiener Virtuosen (soloists from the Vienna Philharmonic) on an album of gorgeous Mahler songs. In terms of quality of artistry, there is no debate here. Hampson's voice is a clear, beautiful baritone that always stays open and never gets murky, and the Virtuosen has exceptionally high-quality instruments, phrasing, and musicianship. One needn't understand the words in "Trost im Unglück" in order to feel the singer's emotion, and his funereal mood in "Der Tambourg'sell" is unmistakable and captured perfectly. Hampson gets into character in each of these pieces, be it the Sentinel in "Der Schildwache Nachtlied" or the grim narrator in "Das irdische Leben." Underscoring each of these pieces are stunning cello lines, brass chords (such as in "Urlicht"), or orchestral sweeps. Not one single phrase has been neglected by the Virtuosen, which demonstrates a level of attention to detail. One might notice that Hampson's sound is not at his best in the "Rheinlegendchen," for though his baritone is bright, the flowing interpretation tends to dampen the diction, as it does in "Verlorne Müh'!" Sometimes his voice can lose precision, such as in the melismas in "Wer hat dies Liedel erdacht," which sound rather rambling and a bit sloppy. Hampson has a wide vibrato that can make for a rather spread sound, such as in "Revelge," and this may not be to everybody's taste. But Hampson's voice has such warmth, power, core, and expression that one cannot overlook these qualities. He understands his material, he feels it. His higher voice can be as lyrical as a tenor, such as when he sings "Im Rosengarten! Im grünen Klee" in "Der Schildwache Nachtlied," which is a nice musical contrast to the dramatic parts of the song that sound rather Wagnerian. "Lied des Verfolgten im Turm" shows off his diction, with every R rolled and every line phrased just so to interpret all of Mahler's moods. In sum, this is a solid choice for fans of Mahler, the Vienna Philharmonic, Thomas Hampson, or all three.

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