The Classic Review, October 4, 2021
Azusa Ueno
“Freudvoll und Leidvoll” – Songs by Liszt – Jonas Kaufmann, Helmut Deutsch
We may not associate Franz Liszt with the art song, but he wrote a fair number of them – approximately 90 – during his lifetime. For all their relative inconspicuousness, they reflect his fearlessness to innovate stylistically and explore multiple perspectives within a genre.

The 3 Sonneti del Petrarca rightly draw an immediate connection to the counterparts from the Années de Pèlerinage; the irony is that the better-known piano versions are actually transcriptions of Liszt’s own original songs. But in some ways, that’s more or less where the similarities end. Recognizable melody aside, the instrumental and vocal settings of the Sonetti 47 (track 9) show a fascinating difference in their balance and metamorphosis of character. Where the piano version opens with a lush cascade before the appearance of the dreamy melody, the vocal version essentially does the opposite: Helmut Deutsch’s silky piano interlude connects seamlessly into Kaufmannn’s entrance, which evokes both gentleness and rapture. What both settings do have is their truly Lisztian moments of gripping drama.

Pace non trovo (track 10) seems to diverge even further: the song’s opening, especially with the singer’ effective interpretation, has a theatrical flair-a perfect segue into the emotionally heightened melody. (The piano transcription’s introduction is far more brief; the melody also initially takes on a meditative quality before exploding into pyrotechnics). The duo’s performance here is not only highly musical but also illuminating: it shows the degree to which Liszt was inherently aware of how to maximize the expressive qualities of the voice – its inflections, its power – much in the way that he understood how to use the piano’s expressive and virtuosic capabilities.

Kaufmann and Deutsch also present several of the composer’s settings of the same poems to show how his approach to text interpretation changed over time. The two versions of Freudvoll und Leidvoll, though written within a year of each other, could not serve as a better example. The first setting (track 2), despite projecting a general air of calm, portrays the contrast of joy and sorrow in the major and minor key relationships – a facet captured by Deutsch’s lovely nuances, which also add a hint of mystery. The second setting (track 3) is far more animated and agitated. Here, Kaufmannn shines in an exciting and assertive performance.

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