The Times, 18 September 2009
Geoff Brown
Jonas Kaufmann: Opera Recital
A showcase of the German tenor’s beauty, power and flexibility
In Germany, this recital has been released with the apt title Sehnsucht (longing). Here it has no title at all, though music lovers should long for it just the same. For it showcases the beauty, power and flexibility of the young German tenor of the moment, Jonas Kaufmann. Go to Covent Garden this week and you’ll find him soaring in Verdi’s Don Carlo. Buy this, his second recital for Decca, and he’s nestling into his heartland, German-language opera, though any tenor who mixes singing Lohengrin and Parsifal with Tamino’s arias from Die Zauberflöte believes in variety.

The steadiness of pitch; the range of colours; the baritone depths; the subtle phrasing and characterisations; the dynamic variety; the delicate line of his Mozart; the ardour in Florestan’s Gott! Welch dunkel hier from Fidelio; his clarion call in Wagner, lubricated and lightened with Italianate sunshine: these perhaps are the main reasons for curling in front of the hi-fi in wonder. Only a twinkle of humour seems missing; not the case, say, with a past tenor like Fritz Wunderlich, whom Kaufmann points to as a model. But Parsifal is no comedian, and in an age when CD companies and promoters so easily lead handsome singers astray, Kaufmann’s seriousness of purpose is very refreshing. I hope it lasts.

The images in the CD packaging — Photoshop riffs on Caspar David Friedrich’s painting The Wanderer and other German Romantic icons — could be labelled pretentious. But they neatly tell us about shared sensibilities and German tradition. Even the track order is sensible, with Wagner’s enraptured visions of the Holy Grail from Lohengrin and Parsifal leading us in and out, and two curiosities from Schubert’s forgotten operas at the centre (the symphony’s scherzo, if you like).

Whatever he sings, too, is cradled by the equally refined musicianship of Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. They’re as much of a chameleon as Kaufmann, pumping up lushly when Wagner calls, slimming back the vibrato for Mozart and gliding with lyrical rapture in the track from Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella, an aria of simple charms. But however well judged and glowing Abbado’s orchestra is, there’s no question over where the true glory lies. It’s in Kaufmann’s larynx, heart and head.

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