Spokane Symphony Orchestra with guest Thomas Hampson Friday, Nov. 17, Opera House
Does Thomas Hampson need to prove himself in Spokane, Wash.? Hardly. His performance Friday with the Spokane Symphony and Symphony Chorale was sung to a sold-out house that would have probably given him a standing ovation if he had mumbled his way through “Moon River.”
He didn’t, of course, sing “Moon River.” But the audience did reward his performance of Delius’ “Sea Drift” with a standing ovation and numerous curtain calls, then another standing ovation following his three encores. Hampson proved, again, why he is widely considered simply the best baritone there is. His skill, intelligence and commitment were echoed by the quality of orchestral and choral performance. Randi Ellefson’s Symphony Chorale sounded exceptionally fine Friday, and the playing of the symphony made the evening an unforgettably beautiful experience.
The program began with Ravel’s “Don Quichotte a Dulcinee.” Hampson’s French was impeccable, and the care he brought to the phrasing and character of these tiny works made them the embodiment of the love-struck, dementedly idealistic and occasionally drunken Don Quixote.
For the orchestral work on the program, conductor Fabio Mechetti produced a beautifully atmospheric reading of Debussy’s “La Mer.” These three “symphonic sketches,” as the composer called them, shimmered with the reflected orchestral light and transparency of texture one associates with Debussy’s music.
The evening’s principal work was “Sea Drift,” Frederick Delius’ setting of a section of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.” Hampson and Mechetti could have chosen some popular opera arias, Hampson knows them by the dozen, and Mechetti could have accompanied them with the same responsive skill he always brings to accompaniments. Instead, they chose something rare, and they brought rare qualities to it.
Hampson’s voice has a mellifluous quality well-suited to the romantic repertoire. He can unleash real power, but only when it’s needed. Most of the time he can rely on crystal-clear diction to be audible. But when he does release the power in his voice, the result is quite imposing.
Fully as remarkable as the tonal beauty and the power is his sensitivity to the texts. Delius followed Whitman’s verbal music ingeniously, not only relishing the musicality in the word “Alabama” but coaxing it out of the unpromising, awkward-sounding word “immediately.” Hampson delighted in the sound of Whitman’s lines, and that was clear in his performance. In addition to these technical and musical skills, Hampson has a commanding presence.
He sang three encores he has probably sung more times than he would care to count, Aaron Copland’s nostalgic “Long Time Ago,” the boisterous “Boatmen” and a surprisingly vehement “Simple Gifts.” He brought to them the same care he lavished on the program’s earlier works.
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