Opera News, Dezember 2006
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901879
Jonas Kaufmann's voice seems forged of pure silver, and when he's singing at full throttle, as in "Ich liebe dich," it has a thrilling tactile solidity. Yet Kaufmann's sotto voce is more impressive still. In "Die Nacht," for example, his tone is intimate, confiding, vulnerable, and if the smoothness of his legato suggests polished glass, then the care with which he places his consonants gives the listener a sense that there's alert life (rhythmically speaking, at least) under the surface. Emotionally, too, there's astonishing variety and depth. The gentle pleading with which he starts "Befreit" immediately sets the scene, and he takes the line "lässt unsern Kindern mich zurück" (Leave me behind for our children) in a single breath, almost running out of air by the end — a daring, heartrending touch. In Kaufmann's interpretation, "Befreit" becomes a tone poem in miniature, giving us all the radiance and pain of Death and Transfiguration but in less than five minutes.

This could have been one of the great Strauss recitals on disc. The problem here is the lack of consistency. Some of the songs simply fail to catch fire. "Cäcilie" is hobbled by Helmut Deutsch's prosaic account of the sumptuous piano part, and "Heimliche Aufforderung" is similarly drab. One can't always place the blame entirely on Deutsch's shoulders, however. "Zueignung," the recital's opening selection, finds both Kaufmann and Deutsch struggling to convey passionate yearning at a lugubrious tempo. And where's the impetuous protagonist in "Nichts"? Kaufmann's singing is full of color, it's true, but surely the final stanza demands more spontaneity.

Perhaps it's because the majority of this program is so satisfying that these few missteps stand out so starkly. Happily, at the recital's end, it's the sublime moments that linger in one's memory: Kaufmann's expert storytelling in "Ach weh mir unglückhaftem Mann," the weightless quality of his head voice in "Traum durch die Dämmerung," and, of course, a "Befreit" that could make a stone weep.


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