What it has shed in youthful freshness, Thomas Hampson’s voice has now gained in character. The even bloom of old has given way to a more variegated tone that makes him one of today’s most satisfying baritones. This collection, dominated by muted hues and delivered with undertows of ennui and moody lyricism, plays to his present strengths.
Yet many of these songs come from a young man’s pen, and as such they have a directness that’s a million miles from the greater extravagance of Strauss’s interwar music. By Op. 27, though, his operatic style had defined itself and allowed him to colour in the barely-disguised homosexual themes of JH Mackay’s ‘Morgen!’ and ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ with delicious richness.
With a team as well matched as Hampson and the eloquent pianist Wolfram Rieger, the ear quickly adjusts to DG’s resonant acoustic and relaxes into some warm, intelligent interpretations. The extended Dehmel setting that gives the disc its title is usually heard in orchestral garb; here, in the composer’s starker version for piano and violin obbligato (an elegiac contribution from Daniel Hope), Hampson has the palette to himself. He paints the fin-de-siècle poem a darker shade of pale, to transcendent effect.