LABELS: Channel Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Tides of Life
WORKS: Barber: Dover Beach; Brahms: Vier ernste Gesänge; Schubert: An die Leier; Memnon; Geheimes; Ständchen* (arr. Bob Zimmerman); Wolf: Mörike-Lieder – selection; Goethe-Lieder – selection; Italian Serenade
PERFORMER: Candida Thompson (violin), Thomas Hampson (baritone); *Netherlands Female Youth Choir; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Wilma ten Wolde
CATALOGUE NO: CCS 38917
Thomas Hampson’s honeyed baritone and leonine good looks have delighted audiences for decades. A passionate advocate for art song, his latest foray into the studio showcases songs by Schubert, Wolf and Brahms in new arrangements for string orchestra, almost all by the British composer David Matthews, alongside Barber’s Dover Beach and Wolf’s joyous Italian Serenade. This continues a tradition of orchestral song established by figures like Berlioz, Brahms (who himself orchestrated Schubert) and others. Here, 19th-century drawing-room songs are refracted through a 20th-century Mahlerian soundworld, and placed firmly in the 21st-century concert hall.
In his orchestrations Matthews makes inspired and sensitive use of string colour and intimate solos. The Amsterdam Sinfonietta is sometimes a touch heavy-handed, making me occasionally miss the crisp, percussive attack of a piano. However, in the tumultuous ‘Der Rattenfänger’, incisive and spiky bowing perfectly evoke Wolf’s mischievousness. Mayrhofer’s uncanny text in Schubert’s ‘Memnon’ is matched by an otherworldly, nearly vibrato-free sound. The Biblical messages of Brahms’s Four Serious Songs gain gravitas from the rich string sonorities. And in Schubert’s Ständchen for vocal ensemble, the demure-sounding girls’ choir, supported by discreet strings in an arrangement by Bob Zimmerman, is the perfect foil for Hampson’s velvety sound.