Foster

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Foster
LABELS: EMI Angel
WORKS: American Dreamer: Songs of Stephen Foster
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson (baritone), Jay Ungar (violin), Molly Mason (guitar), David Alpher (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54621 2 DDD
Hampson carries his musicianship and superb baritone sound to any repertoire which appeals to him. These 19th-century popular songs of Stephen Foster – whom Hampson calls ‘the trunk of the tree of American music’ – are a vivid and evocative mix. Foster’s melodies are flavoured with Anglo-Irish folk-song lyricism and his minstrel show numbers, using African-American rhythmic patterns, are delivered on this recording in traditional style by the colourful additions of flute, mandolin, banjo, cornet, tuba and percussion. Foster’s own texts offer a wide range of expression from the wistful ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ to tough survival songs like ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’ – which features the writer Garrison Keillor as a back-up baritone!

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This is intriguing and appealing material, perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but an important segment in the musical jigsaw puzzle of Hampson’s career. After American Concert Songs (EMI 1990) and American Lieder (Teldec 1991), this is another neglected and under-recorded area which is of special significance to Hampson. He is not as consistently fresh-voiced as one would wish but his interpretative and technical skills more than compensate. ‘Open Thy Lattice, Love’ and the nostalgic ‘Ah! May The Red Rose Live Alway’ are absolute gems. Elisse McDougall