Limelight Magazine, Apr 16, 2013
By Clive Paget
Wagner: Scales and Arias *****
World-beating Wagner – faultless recital proves Kaufmann’s one heldentenor to rule them all.
In the liner notes, Jonas Kaufmann recalls a moment from his childhood. His grandfather sits at the piano, illustrated vocal scores of the Wagner operas open before him, singing his way through every role – summoning the vassals along with Hagen and “hojotoho-ing” his way to the top of Brünnhilde’s rock. Thus did young Jonas learn of Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and the terrible tale of the Nibelung’s ring. It’s been a sensibly cautious journey, but the Munich-born tenor has recently moved into the heavier end of the German repertoire.

This is Kaufmann’s first all-Wagner disc and it’s a thrilling experience. He starts with Die Walküre, but instead of Winterstürme he opts for Siegmund’s far more interesting sword monologue. In six glorious minutes, Kaufmann runs the gamut from resolute hero to romantic dreamer and back. Listen to how he caresses Ein Weib sah’ ich, wonnig und hehr, or how he comes elegantly off the voice for Ist es der blick der blühenden Frau. Time and again he builds the perfect climax with grace and passion. And then there are those mighty cries of Wälse. In his notes he references Melchior as the benchmark here, but by my timing he outlasts him by a good two seconds!

And so it goes on. He lightens the voice for Siegfried’s forest monologue – more burnished tone, more delicious word-painting. Rienzi’s prayer offers a classy bel canto turn tossed off with panache. Tannhäuser’s narration is riveting – not a sign of strain or wobble, and who can one say that about these days? His Am stillen herd from Die Meistersinger is ravishing – smooth yet ardent. Unusually, he gives us Wagner’s first thoughts on Lohengrin’s In fernem Land, including the second stanza subsequently cut by the composer. If he’d had Kaufmann, Wagner needn’t have worried that it would outstay its welcome.

As a bonus we get a gripping male interpretation of the Wesendonck-Lieder. By relating the texts to Wagner’s personal situation at the time of composition, you quite forget that the narrator should be Mathilde Wesendonck herself.

His partners throughout are Donald Runnicles and the orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin – a proper opera band. Their experience really pays off with numerous arresting solos and an unerring sense of purpose from the maestro. The engineering is outstanding too, full yet detailed. In short, this is superb. I can’t think of a finer Wagner recital – ever.

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