The Times, January 11, 2008
Neil Fisher
Jonas Kaufmann: Romantic Arias
The question was on everybody’s lips the day after the death of Pavarotti. Where is the “fourth” tenor? At the time, I tipped Jonas Kaufmann, noting that all he lacked was a big record deal. Well now he has one – to be precise, Pavarotti’s former label, Decca, which has snapped up the swarthy, eminently marketable German tenor and launched him with this first disc, Romantic Arias.

Unless you know Kaufmann’s voice well, you might think that this sprawling survey of 19th-century lovers – be they Puccini’s, Wagner’s, Berlioz’s or Bizet’s – was a rather predictable mush (as predictable, in fact, as the rather foursquare accompaniment from Marco Armiliato and the Prague Philharmonic). But it’s Kaufmann’s gift that his immensely seductive and secure voice can encompass nearly anything the tenor repertoire throws at him.

Soon it might be time to start making some tough choices, however. It’s not that he can’t sing them, but the dreamy heroes of La traviata and La Bohème seem a little too grounded when Kaufmann’s husky voice attacks De miei bollenti spiriti and Che Gelida Manina with such vigour. Nor can he really find the ethereal quality that gives Salut! Demeure chaste et pure (from Gounod’s Faust) its necessary floaty grace and style.

But this album is still a virtuoso achievement. Anyone who remembers Kaufmann’s shattering Don José in Carmen at Covent Garden will know just what passion and desperation he brings to the Flower Song – such manly intensity, in fact, that you wonder how on earth any Carmen could call him a wimp and refuse to commit.

There are other jewels as precious on Romantic Arias: Cavaradossi’s despair, in a darkly smouldering E lucevan le stelle, is much more Kaufmann’s bag than Bohème; A sensationally charged and heartfelt Ah! Fuyez, from Massenet’s Manon, comes fully drenched with lovesick guilt.

And yet Kaufmann’s future probably shines most brightly with the promise of the bigger, more Teutonic things to come. Weber’s Der Freischütz gets the subtlest of treatments, but Kaufmann doesn’t skimp on heroics; best of all is the Prize Song from Wagner’s Meistersinger, meltingly spacious, rich and sensitive. A word to Decca: please take good care.

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