Hugo Shirley

Dolce Vita
With this new disc, Jonas Kaufmann offers something like a transalpine equivalent to his disc of the German repertoire popularised by Richard Tauber (Sony Classical, 12/14). Here it’s Neapolitan songs made famous by Caruso and his successors, as well as additional later songs in the style.

Fans of the tenor will jump at the opportunity to hear him letting his hair down, and they won’t be disappointed. But, for all the fawning booklet-note’s claims for Kaufmann being an Italian manqué, his version of relaxed and easy-going is still pretty tense and Teutonic compared with, say, Juan Diego Flórez, audibly having a ball on his recent ‘Italia’ disc (Decca, 10/15). Kaufmann’s new disc is glossier and more heavily produced, too, with the tenor placed far forward (with dabs of reverb) in the balance. The orchestrations, dutifully performed, are awash with fluty twiddles and swoony string counterpoints, occasionally bolstered by plangent mandolin and furrowed-brow brass.

Kaufmann does everything with the care and intelligence one expects, and no shortage of open-throated ardour. But neither the engineering nor the repertoire shows the tenor to best advantage, highlighting a lack of juice and honey in his voice and delicacy in his manner. There’s too little lightness of touch in the skipping lines of ‘Voglio vivere così’, for example, and he can’t quite vary his tone enough in the more repetitive songs – here you suddenly notice a few reprises too many of the big tune of ‘Caruso’.

It’s good harmless fun, even if it ultimately feels like a match made less in heaven than in the boardroom.

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