Audiophile Audition, January 27, 2014
Steven Ritter
Kaufmann WAGNER = Scenes and arias
The world’s leading tenor? Could be.

I am referring everyone who reads these new DGG Blu-ray Pure Audio reviews to my review of the Kleiber Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 reissue for comments and details on this series in general.

This is the first of these Blu-rays on the Decca label that I have encountered, yet though the album is only less than a year old, it is still 24-bit/96 kHz two-channel stereo. I don’t think it was issued on SACD, so even more a chance was missed to present this rather spectacular recording in state-of-the-art surround sound. The sound here is a definite improvement over an already very fine CD release, so points are scored there, though again I am not sure the extra money is worth it to all but the most confirmed audiophiles. I would probably shell out for this one, but it’s a close call!

Jonas Kaufmann is the answer to many Wagnerian prayers which have been uttered over the last ten years or so. This fifth solo album focuses on some of the greatest Wagnerian moments, and even offers us the wonderful Wesendonck-Lieder, rarely performed by any but a female voice. Kaufmann handles it deliriously, reveling in every Felix Mottl-orchestrated moment, showing a different dimension to his Bayreuth persona besides crooning from the stage over an orchestra as powerful as a locomotive. But he does that too and maybe better than anyone alive today. His voice is infused with expressive power, and it seems vocal power as well, though in a recording that is always difficult to ascertain since so much can be manipulated. But what we do get is very convincing indeed.

Kaufmann’s earlier recording this past year was all-Verdi, showing an amazing versatility, though that one is not nearly as well-guided as what Donald Runnicles, a confirmed Wagnerian, gives us here. The orchestra is radiant, the conducting brilliant, and the singing almost without peer. What else do you need?

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