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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Jonas Kaufmann: Wagner
Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater (from Die Walküre)
Dass der mein Vater nicht ist (from Siegfried)
Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab! (from Rienzi)
Inbrunst im Herzen (from Tannhäuser)
Am stillen Herd (from Die Meistersinger)
In fernem Land (from Lohengrin) extended version with second verse
Wesendonck-Lieder
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor); Markus Brück (bass-baritone)
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin
Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin/Donald Runnicles
rec.17-22 September 2012, Grosser Sendesaal, Funkhaus Berlin, Nalepastrasse, Berlin  DDD
DECCA 0289 478 5189 9 CD DH [74:21]


 
In these days of a dearth of Wagnerian tenors, Jonas Kaufmann stands out like a good deed in a naughty world. It is too easy to slip into superlatives when listening to him throw himself into six great Wagner tenor arias from six different operas without any apparent strain or damage to his magnificent instrument. If I am honest, I have two very minor reservations about what is otherwise a veritable feast of Heldentenor singing, devoid of bark, slide, whine, strain or glottal attack - just pharyngeally resonant, baritonally coloured vocalisation complete with ringing top notes and a poet's way with the text. They are these: first, Kaufmann is very closely miked and as such we are not really hearing anything like an opera-house acoustic, for all that we know he can fill those big, empty spaces. Secondly, Donald Runnicles' accompaniments are a tad careful and under-dramatised, emphasising beauty over imagination - sometimes even verging on the slack. I don't want to make too much of that when the playing is so good and the sound so grateful on the ear. I miss a little of the magic which a truly charismatic conductor can impart to the Woodbird music in the "Siegfried" excerpt but it's the combination of the tenor's power and subtlety which carries the day. Having said that, the orchestral postlude to the "Rienzi" aria is exquisitely played.
 
These chunks merely have the effect of making one wish to hear him in more complete roles, and these are gradually appearing in various formats, if not as what is now the rara avis of a studio recording.
 
Kaufmann remains the most striking and virile Wagner tenor of his voice-type since Ramon Vinay and Jon Vickers, whose timbre his so strongly resembles. We shall probably never hear another Melchior but to the majority of opera-lovers alive Kaufmann offers the best opportunity they will ever have of hearing Wagner sung superlatively. He shows no signs of acquiring vocal bad habits, having since curbed the glottal tic which was creeping into his Pinkerton back in 2008 and his artistry waxes with his experience. The slight hoarseness inherent in his tone lends it a distinctive character and an advantage in conveying desperation, which is why his Don José, Don Carlos (elsewhere) and Tannhäuser here in this recital are so affecting; the latter's monologue generates a gripping intensity. His diction is exemplary, too, and his willingness to sing softly a blessing, especially as it enhances the impact of his full-throated notes.
 
Of special interest is the original, two-stanza version of the "Lohengrin" narration and it forms the high point in an already definitive collection of Wagnerian highlights. Kaufmann is utterly credible as the heroic paradigm of chivalry.
 
For many, the surprise here will be in the manner of his delivery of the Wesendonck Lieder. It is rare to hear these songs performed by any voice other than a mezzo-soprano or a dramatic soprano as designated by Wagner and Kaufmann certainly makes the case for their interpretation by a tenor of his calibre - even if I won't necessarily be reaching for his version before those by Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig or Eileen Farrell; the female voice lends a special erotic frisson to these languorous songs, even if Kaufmann can compete with them in terms of legato and even beauty of tone.
 

Ralph Moore
 
See also review by Jim Pritchard