Mahler: Songs with Orchestra - Graham/Hampson/Tilson Thomas

Mahler: Songs with Orchestra - Graham/Hampson/Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony  821936-0036-2

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal

Mahler: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Ruckert-Lieder, Des Knaben Wunderhorn (excerpts)

Susan Graham (mezzo soprano)
Thomas Hampson (baritone)
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor)

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony bring their historic Mahler recording cycle to a close with the composer's three song cycles.

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, who launched their historic Mahler recording cycle in 2001, complete the best-selling, critically acclaimed and award-winning project with the composer's atmospheric song cycles. The live recordings, taken from concerts in the orchestra's Davies Symphony Hall, features two of America's most lauded singers, mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in Rückert-Lieder, and baritone Thomas Hampson in Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and selections from Das Knaben Wunderhorn.

The release coincides with international celebrations Mahler's music, as 2010 is the 150th anniversary of his birth, and 2011 marks the 100th year of his death. The SFS and MTT, among the world's leading interpreters of Mahler's music, will play a significant role in the global commemoration of Mahler, through concerts, prominent media projects, and extensive international tours. The MTT/SFS Mahler cycle has won seven Grammy Awards, including three for Best Classical Album, and has sold over 140,000 recordings world-wide. This final instalment puts the crowning touch on every collector's CD shelf.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - October 27, 2010

Anyone who, like me, has purchased the previous eleven recordings by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra of the orchestral works of Mahler will probably wish to add this final disc to their collection. In all truth, however, it proves to be something of a disappointment in musical terms when compared with the earlier issues.

First the good news: the sonic qualities that have distinguished the previous releases are once again in abundance here. The realistic re-creation of the acoustic space of Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco by the engineers is absolutely superb, allowing every detail of Mahler’s orchestrations to emerge with pristine clarity from a sound stage that has impressive depth as well as width. The only possible criticism is that the voices of the soloists are too forwardly balanced in relation to the orchestra, but not to a disturbing degree. The expansive and relaxed style of MTT’s Mahler conducting is by now well known, and he accompanies both his singers with great sensitivity while his orchestra produce unfailingly lovely sounds. The reproduction of the supple silky strings, refined winds and burnished brass are a constant delight for any audiophile as well as a tribute to MTT’s work with this orchestra.

The decision to entrust the bulk of the songs on this disc to Thomas Hampson was, I feel, unwise at this stage in his career. Though his voice is generally firm, both his vocal and expressive ranges are limited. Low notes lack weight and soft high notes are delivered in a falsetto that may well have impressed at the concerts from which these recordings were made, but seems mannered and contrived on repeated hearing. His diction is also at times very strange, one example being the different ways in which he pronounces the word ‘schöne’ at each of its appearances in the second of the Wayfarer songs (Tr.2 0’59). Hampson is at his best in communicating the drama of the two extended marching songs ‘Revelge’ and ‘Der Tambourg’sell’ from the Wunderhorn selection and ‘Ich hab’ein glühend Messer’ the third song of the Wayfarer cycle. Elsewhere he delivers polished but bland interpretations that give little sense of identification with the meaning and spirit of the words.
The surprising choice of ‘Urlicht’ (usually sung by a mezzo or contralto as the fourth movement of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony) to be the final item in this group of songs does not really work when transferred to the baritone voice. In Hampson’s performance the song sounds solemn but never moving.

Susan Graham in the five Rückert Lieder also sings with a modicum of artifice, but her performances are blessed with her creamy voice and beautifully controlled singing. ‘Liebst du um Schönheit’ is particularly memorable, but the culmination of this group is her radiant account of the fourth song ‘Um Mitternacht’ accompanied by magnificent wind and brass playing from the orchestra, definitely the finest performance on this disc. It is a pity that she could not have joined Hampson in some of the Wunderhorn songs.

This then is a less than stellar end to one of the most impressive, and undoubtedly best recorded, Mahler cycles of the past ten years.

Copyright © 2010 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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