Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, T. Hampson, S. Skelton, San Francisco Symphony, M. Tilson Thomas (SFS Media, 2008)
Music director Michael Tilson Thomas zealously watched over a most delicate rendition of the "Unfinished" Symphony, immediately hushing the low strings in the introduction to the first movement. With a restrained pace he took the tempo marking of “Allegro moderato” at face value, a moderation that extended into all musical areas. The cellos presented the famous B theme with consummate introspection, and after the development’s mysterious chords with rumbling bass, the recapitulation returned just as serenely, at precisely the same tempo as the one set at the outset. The second movement was just as rarefied, with the oboe solos striking just the right air of plangent longing, matched by strong contributions from clarinet, flute, and horn, all allowed to be limpid and graceful, never forced into shrillness.
Anne Midgette, A renowned American orchestra shows its refinement (Washington Post, April 18)
James R. Ostreich, A Mahler Mini-Festival in New York (New York Times, April 18)
Anthony Tommasini, San Francisco Symphony at Carnegie Hall (New York Times, April 14)
Niels Swinkels, S.F. Symphony Plays from the Heart in Mahler, and Schubert (San Francisco Classical Voice, April 13)
Joshua Kosman, Cooke, SF Symphony combine in intoxicating Mahler (San Francisco Chronicle, April 7)
If you are wondering why Tilson Thomas would trade out the baritone version of the cycle for the mezzo-soprano one, the answer could be that he had Sasha Cooke available. Tilson Thomas coaxed more exquisite sounds from the orchestra to envelop Cooke’s silky legato phrases, but under which she was never submerged. In “Von der Schönheit,” the orchestra turned on a dime, one minute floating ethereally, the next ranting through the interlude of boys galloping on their horses, and then sighing in the postlude with the yearning maiden. The sense of desolation in “Der Abschied” was overwhelming, the masterfully gloomy orchestration, the gorgeous flute and oboe solos. Oh, eternally Love-Life-drunk world indeed.