In the early evening of April 28, 2013, at Alice Tully Hall, two artists joined in song to present to us a New York debut, and a program of German Lieder. The aforementioned artists were The Jupiter String Quartet and American baritone Thomas Hampson. The premire was that of composer Mark Adamo; the lieder was that of Hugo Wolf. The latter’s work was performed using the original piano part arranged for four string instruments.
The concert began with the Schubert Quartet in E-flat major for Strings, D. 87, followed by Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz for String Quartet. These two pieces supplied the audience with the knowledge of the caliber and quality that these four artists possess. Able to flex and express the slightest caress of an emotion, they are a champion choice to present Mr. Adamo’s music.
The premiere of the evening came just before the intermission. Mark Adamo’s Aristotle for Baritone and String Quartet was co-commissioned by The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. The text for Mr. Adamo’s score came from Billy Collins’s Aristotle, which is a long-form poem that makes a clear delineation between its parts. The sum of which comes across a bit too literal when read sans melody. But when you add in Mr. Adamo’s soaring score, the text, though still too literal, softens into something of a question mark, rather than an exclamation, or declarative statement. When Mr. Hampson sings, “This is the beginning…This is the middle…And this is the end,” it is not until you get to the meat of the poem that one quite, ‘gets it.’ Mr. Adamo notates that the singer must experience the text, rather than just simply list such things as, “The letter A…think of an egg.”
Yet the question remains: what is the question? Is the composition about a persons life? Is the composition merely reflecting upon itself? Is this a story about a man searching for, losing, then lamenting, love? Unless you have a singing poet like Thomas Hampson, these questions might seem too dull to even begin to answer. But only in his voice do these random collections of thought make sense. It may be better they remain unanswered.
By the end of the piece, one is left with the image of falling leaves paired with a stunningly gorgeous cello effect. The teary-eyed composer joined the artists on stage for a well-deserved bow.
After the intermission, The Jupiter String Quartet again flexed their musical muscle with Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade for String Quartet. Which led us into the lieder.
It is the opinion of this examiner that Thomas Hampson is the best interrupter of German Lieder this county has or ever has had. No one sounds like him; his is a talent all his own. It is smokey without tension, expressive without excess, yet still richly toned and flexible enough to reach the stratosphere (vocally speaking).
His best and most beautiful work came in “Im Frühling” where he sings of springtime, calling out, “Spring, what is it you want? When shall I be satisfied?” And in “Verborgenheit” in which he exclaims, “pure joy pierces through.” That is exactly what happened that night. Even more so when he sang his encore “Der Rattenfänger.”
For more information about Thomas Hampson, click here.
For more information about The Jupiter String Quartet, click here.
For more information about The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, click here.