Gramophone, May 2013
Mike Ashman
Kaufmann and Runnicles with anniversary salute to Wagner
Turn immediately to the Tannhäuser excerpt. Mighty tents are already pitched on this summit of early Wagnerian arioso — Melchior and Szell, Windgassen and Sawallisch, Kollo and Solti —but Kaufmann and a superbly paced accompaniment from Runnicles and his German orchestra are up there with them. Kaufmann both darkens and stresses up his voice to portray the failed pilgrim's predicament, and he and the conductor make daring and unisono use of fermatas.

Elsewhere, the novelties of this carefully thought-out recital include the 'original' version of Lohengrin's Grail Narration (two verses with linking chorus) and, again following earlier colleagues like Melchior and Richard Tauber, a performance of the WesendonckLieder. I remain unconvinced (pace the artist's booklet defence) that the latter really work dramatically for a male voice — although Kaufmann gives so much attention to dear Mathilde's texts as to render their barely Alice Elgar level of poetic inspiration almost too clear, and Runnicles makes Mottl's plain orchestration as echt Wagnerian (ie Tristanesque) as possible. Kaufmann's full Act 3 narration is now even more polished and ecstatic (high' is the word I want to use) than his noted Munich and Bayreuth performances. The other operatic excerpts, including a sizeable chunk of Siegfried's Forest Murmurs and a truly improvisatory-sounding 'Am stillen Herd', also find the tenor pushing the confines of a recital disc excitingly towards the level of live performance.

Subtly recorded (in East Berlin's atmospheric-sounding Funkhaus studio) and, as I hope I've already indicated, magically accompanied, the disc is something of a triumph.

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