Musicweb International, NOVEMBER 14, 2023
Jim Westhead

The Sound of Movies
In September 1970, Gramophone published an interview with Leonard Bernstein. He said: ‘I could write as many serial pieces as I wished, if I felt so inclined, but you know, it’s much harder to write a tune in F major than to compose a three-hour 12-tone sonata.’ I do not know if he ever commented on his struggles to compose Maria from West Side Story. However much he sweated over it, the effort was worth it, for it is truly one of the great tunes of the 20thCentury.

It is my opinion that no 12-tone work will ever become popular – because of its melodic aridity. This disc shows that many 20th Century composers had a gift for melody. Their efforts have been disseminated to the listening public via the media of stage and screen. Here we have Jonas Kaufmann’s selection. He writes: ‘As an ardent film buff and singer, I am naturally very receptive to all the vocal numbers that have been heard in soundtracks all over the world, which is why it was a particular pleasure for me to rummage in the treasury of film music in search of the most beautiful pieces for my new album.’

Everyone will have their favourites here. Other than Maria, mine are You’ll Never Walk Alone from Carousel (sung very slowly), Serenade from The Student Prince and Nelle tue mani from Gladiator. Other songs are lovely too, and all have fine tunes, some very fine. Each song is presented with the same degree of artistry.

I found no principle to relate one piece to the next. I suppose that “a vehicle for Kaufmann’s voice” is as good as any. Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić accompanies him in four songs; in Cavatina from The Deer Hunter the setting is beautiful indeed.

Kaufmann has a very slight German accent, occasionally heard here. He employs head voice a lot in some lovely quiet singing. He was 53 when he recored this. Few tenors can expect to retain their strong vocal range as they age, alas. I detect a thinness of tone in a handful of songs which call for a full-throated release of volume. Even so, he gets those top notes, and I think he sings with a degree of intelligence not always heard in this sort of repertoire.

All in all, I have much enjoyed this disc. I imagine that Kaufmann’s admirers who take to this sort of repertoire will like it also. There are unusual items here, such as the opening song from Ich küsse ihre Hand, Madame, a silent operetta filmed in 1929. When the song begins, the movement of the star’s mouth is synchronised with a gramophone recording of Richard Tauber.

Reality comes from La Boum scored by Vladimir Cosma. I had never heard of this film. As far as I can see, neither had the writer of the lengthy and historically informative booklet notes (which I acknowledge with gratitude). They are filled with little nuggets. For example, in the comments on The Cider House Rules, we learn that the English composer Rachel Portman is the only woman to have received an Academy Award, the 1997 Best Original Score nod for Emma.

The orchestral and choral accompaniment is very fine and well balanced. It allows the solo voice to project well. The 55-page booklet contains details of the songs in German, English and French, plus full colour illustrations of original artwork that accompanied the film/music release. There also are photos of Kaufmann adopting some of the poses recognisable from the films, for example, clinging at 45° to a lamp post, holding an umbrella in the rain. Sony Records have done their star tenor proud in this release.

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