Baritone pursued vocal challenges with exuberance

December 14, 1992|By Robert Haskins | Robert Haskins,Contributing Writer

The end of 1992 will be very important for singer Thomas Hampson, who was the featured recitalist in Saturday's Shriver Hall Concert Series at Johns Hopkins University.

Still in his 30s, Mr. Hampson will soon be presenting his Carnegie Hall recital debut. It will be another milestone in an already long and distinguished career that spans considerable achievements in opera, concert performances, lieder and recordings.

On the evidence of his brilliant performance at Shriver, one wonders what took him so long.

For Mr. Hampson is undoubtedly one of the most distinguished baritones of his generation, possessing a near-perfect instrument that responds effortlessly to his every expressive nuance and, moreover, a thoughtful musical intellect.

Pulling no punches, Mr. Hampson opened his recital with Schubert's "An die Leier," one of that composer's most enigmatic and technically challenging lieder. Standing nearly motionless, Mr. Hampson shaped a reading absolutely remarkable in its variety of tonal color and expressive power. This feat of virtuosity remained the highlight in an evening of many.

His quest to uncover genius in unlikely music was revealed in his performance of Rossini's "Elegia 'L'ultimo ricordo," a selection from the composer's late works, "Peches de viellesse."

Few singers have sung Rossini with this much care, elaborating its structure as he might the most profound musical masterpiece. Mr. Hampson's performance of a composer so currently misunderstood as Rossini should serve as inspiration to others.

Mr. Hampson began his career in opera, of course, and his selections from that repertory -- in particular, the "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's "Herodiade" -- were all one could wish for. Indeed, there seems very little this artist cannot accomplish if he chooses.

The baritone was assisted by pianist Craig Rutenberg, who proved an able artistic collaborator. However, one missed a sense of equal partnership and verve in his performance of Schubert's lieder -- though he did later match Mr. Hampson's enthusiasm and artistry in both the Massenet and in the Vaughan Williams' "Joy, Shipmate, Joy!"

The series continues Jan. 17 with a performance by the Peabody Trio.

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