Thomas Hampson & MTT

April 2, 1999

Who said, "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful?"  That was my impression of Thomas Hampson's performance with the San Francisco Symphony on GOOD FRIDAY.  I've heard so many criticisms of Hampson and I'm still baffled.  My only explanation is that nobody likes an over achiever.  The man is just too tall, too good looking, he has too much hair, his voice is too beautiful, his French and German diction is too perfect, he's too scholarly and he plumbs the depths of lied and art song too deeply.  TOO BAD!  I love this guy.

Michael Tilson Thomas began the evening with a fine reading of the Siegfried Idyll coaxing soft tenderness from the score.  There are some that argue that he should plunge into conducting opera, but I disagree.  I love what MTT does with the magnificent S.F. Symphony Orchestra.  Tilson Thomas was an intern at Bayreuth in the early part of his career but isn't under the spell of Wagner.

Hampson then emerged to sing the Songs of a Wayfarer.  I found his choice of evening wear to be dreadful, a charcoal frock coat over a matching waistcoat and trousers, too bad, as Hampson cuts such a dashing figure in tails.

I thought Hampson did a brilliant job with the songs, some of my favorite because they are filled with bittersweet memories of love lost.  I haven't had the opportunity to hear him sing these songs before, I was amazed at how he shaped every phrase carefully, paying attention to every sound.  His voice was just gorgeous especially the middle and the tenor-like top.  My favorite was Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz, Hampson filled it with melancholy sadness and despair.

After intermission we were treated to more of Hampson's vocal pyrotechnics!  The vocal program concluded with Debussy's settings of Trois Ballades de Francios Villon.  I guess these are so rare that the speaker who presented the pre-performance talk had to look high and low for a record from 1952.  The first song was Ballade de Villon a S'amye.  The music was the oddest of the three, but I liked its quirkiness.  In the text there was the underlying sarcasm of a man who had been made foolish by love and Hampson took that notion and ran with it.  Again, Hampson carefully crafted each phrase with great wit.  The second piece, Ballade que Villon feit a la requeste de sa Mere pour priere Nostre-Dame, was just too pious for me, but sung beautifully.  The final piece, Ballade des Femmes de Paris, was a song about women of Paris always getting in the last word.  The song was riotously funny and Hampson's delivery was deliciously wry.

MTT ended with a taste of Stravinsky, the Symphony in Three Movements. If this is a sampling of what is in store for the June Stravinsky Festival, you'll want to go back for seconds and bring a doggie bag.  The piece was lively, filled with daring rhythms and power.  MTT really does wonders with 20th Century music.  By the way, how many times have you seen a guest artist in the audience after they have performed? ? ? ?  Thomas Hampson took a seat in the Symphony's Box and intently listened to the Stravinsky piece.

Next stop. . . Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall April 11, with Murray Perahia.

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Copyright:  © 1999 Terri Stuart
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