Im Sommerwind Mahler
Symphony No.3 in A minor
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder
LPO & Thomas Hampson Concert - 14th March
Wednesday, March 14, 2001 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
I imagine Im Sommerwind comes as something of a surprise to anyone familiar with Weberns 31 official opuses, a body of work re-defining compositional thinking; as such Webern might well be the twentieth centurys most significant composer. A rejected student piece for large orchestra, Im Sommerwind waited sixty years or so to be performed; its dominated by the Strauss of Aus Italien with Wagner not too far away. This 15-minute tone-poem seemed a tad more sprawling than usual under Mark Elder. While he obtained some magically quiet pianissimos, he harried the faster music, exposing the LPOs unfamiliarity with the score; extremes of tempo emphasised the sectional construction of Weberns transitional orchestral study. Good to hear though, but Elder needed to meld the slow-fast sections to aid Im Sommerwinds structure. With three digital recordings Boulez, Chailly and Dohnanyi and recent London performances from Manfred Honeck and Ulf Schirmer, Im Sommerwind is fast becoming a repertory piece!
What Thomas Hampson lacks to my mind is an ability to pare-down both his tone and dynamics to give a truly inside rendition. This was certainly the case with Kindertotenlieder. As such Hampson sports a communicative stance, hes a big fellow with a voice and personality to match, but he doesnt draw me into the music. When its a deep subject, such as infant-death, then some sort of import needs to be perceived. Hampson, rarely suggestive of regret, bitterness and numbness, allowed the five songs to pass by without burdening Kindertotenlieder with Ruckerts and Mahlers sense of loss. Elder did find some moving paragraphs, but the storm of the ultimate song was no more than an impression surprisingly, presumably deliberately, tepid.
Rachmaninov gets a bad press in some circles for being nostalgic and subjective rather than visionary. His from the heart Third Symphony is from 1936. Im glad to have this wonderful piece, full of melody and energy, fabulously orchestrated. It certainly responds to positively invites a lingering, voluptuous approach (Hollywood strings to the fore; and Rach 3 does have its American aspects) but a leaner soundworld is just as potent; one is more likely to listen to the musics argument, not imagine rolling-credits.
Elder once again favoured a sectional approach, which might have worked better if more volatility had been present. As it was he conducted a well-prepared rendition that lacked knife-edge emotional cut-and-thrust. There was incisiveness when required, particularly so in the fugal section of the last movement (which bears an astonishing similarity to the identical section of the contemporaneous Walton 1).
What I didnt care for was Elders unconvincing rubato in the first movements second subject; nor the attention paid to accompanying woodwind detail, which led the ear away from the tune this made the exposition repeat rather unwelcome. It was good though to hear this great piece given such an expert performance. Mark Elder clearly believes in every note, and thats to be cherished in itself.