RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Jonas Kaufmann – Sehnsucht
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin/Act 3 - "In Fernem Land, Unnahbar Euren Schritten" [5:51]
Lohengrin/Act 3 - "Mein Lieber Schwan!" [5:04]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Zauberflöte, K.620/Act 1 - "Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schön" [3:53]
Die Zauberflöte, K.620/Act 1 - "Die Weisheitslehre Dieser Knaben" (with Michael Volle, bass-bar) [10:28]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Fierrabras, D796/Act 1 - Recitativ Und Arie: "Was Quälst Du Mich..." [5:56]
Alfonso und Estrella, D.732 - Schon, Wenn Es Beginnt Zu Tragen...Und Mein Herz Will Ihm Nach [4:38]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio Op.72/Act 2 - "Gott! Welch Dunkel Hier!" In Des Lebens Frühlingstagen" [10:42]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Walküre/Erster Aufzug - Winterstürme Wichen Dem Wonnemond [3:48]
Parsifal/Act 2 - "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" (with Margarete Joswig (mezzo)) [9:01]
Parsifal/Act 3 - "Nur Eine Waffe Taugt" [9:40]
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. Auditorium Nicolo Paganini, Parma, December 2008
DECCA 478 1463 [69:25]
In an age where celebrity vocal recitals are becoming far more common than complete opera recordings this is something special because it showcases a very special singer. Anyone who has heard Jonas Kaufmann’s previous recordings – see, for instance, his first recital disc, his Decca Carmen DVD or his EMI Madama Butterfly – or has been lucky enough to see him on stage, such as in the ROH’s recent Don Carlo, will know that he possesses a voice of rare distinction. This disc showcases it perfectly. Unlike his earlier recital disc the focus here is on the – often heavier – German repertoire. It seems that in the 16 months that separated the recording of these two recitals his voice has deepened, expanded and if anything grown even darker than before. I often had to remind myself that I was listening to a tenor rather than a baritone, an effect which in this repertoire can be quite thrilling. The sheer size of the voice is remarkable, an instrument of heft and power which he nevertheless deploys with ultimate artistry. This makes for a top-notch recital of repertoire that is currently ideally suited to his voice and must surely whet the appetite for great live performances to come.
The Lohengrin numbers are a great opening diptych: the gleaming string tone that begins the disc seems to grow out of nowhere, and it is worth saying here that the recording quality is excellent throughout, clear and luminous without being too close. Kaufmann’s voice is ideally suited to Lohengrin, a role with which he scored such success in Munich last summer (July 2009). Like the orchestral tone, Kaufmann’s voice begins gently, subtly, but then grows in an inexorable trajectory towards the climax on the revelation of his name, a long view which is very rewarding. The farewell to the swan is gentle but suffused with painful regret which is very moving and achieves disturbing levels of violence towards its end.
It is wonderful to hear Tamino sung by a voice of genuine strength and power. It makes the character feel like the regal hero he should be when too often he is taken by a light-voiced tenor with fair tone but little presence. The portrait aria is grand and exciting, a genuine love-song that bursts with longing. The scene with the Speaker is agile and engaging, with a sweet-toned Michael Volle providing well judged contrast. The subsequent aria with the flute is lighter and more beautiful. Kaufmann has long been an enthusiastic advocate of Schubert’s Fierrabras, singing it on stage in London, Paris, Vienna and Zurich – a DVD of the Zurich production exists on EMI. The dramatic potential in Fierrabras’s aria is worn on the sleeve, ardent and surging, while Alfonso’s aria from Alfonso und Estrella flows with gentle lyricism that befits the nature-painting of the text. Florestan was Kaufmann’s first major German role, and the careful shading of the voice through the long Act 2 scena reflects long experience. The opening cry of Gott! grows from a tiny pianissimo to a thrilling - and seemingly endless - forte; In des Lebens Frühlingstagen is gentle and resigned before rising to ecstasy in his vision of Leonore.
Kaufmann’s first Siegmund lies wisely in the future, but his security in the lower registers make his Winterstürme wonderfully warm and he is not afraid to sing piano when the score requires it, though be warned that the orchestral cadence put on the end sounds very odd! Parsifal was his first major Wagner role. There is remarkable strength to the declamations that open his Act 2 scene before moving into anguished intensity for his meditation on the agony of Amfortas. Then the voice is appreciably darker and more heroic for the final sequence as the enlightened, self-denying hero steps up to become the Grail King. The excitement of hearing Kaufmann in these roles only whets the appetite for more Wagner in future years, though he has warned that we will have to wait a long time for Siegfried and Tristan!
The playing of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra provides excellent support throughout, altering their tone masterfully to reflect the music they are playing: going straight from Lohengrin to The Magic Flute it sounds as though you are hearing an entirely different orchestra, from shimmering vibrato in the Wagner to restrained period playing in the Mozart. The clarinet playing in Alfonso und Estrella is just wonderful and the textures shimmer with spiritual intensity in the final bars of Parsifal. Abbado’s support is assured yet unobtrusive throughout: he knows that there is only one star on this disc and he generously avoids getting in the way.
Only the packaging struck me as a little naff, inserting Kaufmann into paintings by Friedrich to emphasise the German Romantic origin of the music, but full texts and translations are also included along with a survey of Kaufmann’s experience and expectations in this repertoire. All in all this is one of the finest vocal recitals to have come my way this year: it shows a vocal artist of the highest calibre in well chosen repertoire that both showcases his strengths and points forward to the future. Excellent.
One of the finest vocal recitals to have come my way this year ... see Full Review