Jonas Kaufmann impresses with his finely judged phrasing, psychological acuity and seductive swagger
The Times, October 11 2019
Anna Picard
Jonas Kaufmann: Wien review — a patchy tour of the city’s musical history
Vienna, city of waltzes, operetta, schnitzel and Sachertorte. Home to Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms; Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg and Korngold; Schiele, Klimt, Schnitzler and Zweig; Hofmannsthal, Reinhardt and Freud. The polyglot crucible of modernism, psychotherapy and, courtesy of an embittered art student who paid rapt attention to the antisemitic rhetoric of the mayor Karl Lueger, the most toxic political ideology of the 20th century.

In Wien, the unofficial sequel to his 2014 album Du bist die Welt für mich, Jonas Kaufmann could easily have chosen a programme of songs and arias that offered nothing more than touristic nostalgia for a place that was never as liberal as it seemed. There is enough cream and sugar in his selection of golden and silver-age serenades by Johann Strauss II and Franz Lehár to satisfy the sweetest tooth.

Yet in songs such as Georg Kreisler’s satirical Der Tod, das muss ein Wiener sein, sung in a fair approximation of cabaret style by Kaufmann to Michael Rot’s wry piano accompaniment and pointedly placed as an epilogue, there’s a sharpness that interrogates wilful amnesia. Kreisler, like the composer Hans May, left Vienna in 1938. His song is a modern-day Totentanz, beckoning the dancing girls Mitzi, Fritzi and Leopoldine and their suitors to consider their mortality in waltz time. It’s the best number on the album, and a fascinating retort to Peter Kreuder’s ambiguous adieu, Sag beim Abschied leise Servus. Kaufmann brings a bitter verismo sob to Emmerich Kálmán’s Zwei Märchenaugen, but the lightness and cool of less fraught material do not come naturally to him.

Weinberger’s Du wärst für mich die Frau gewesen and May’s foxtrot Es wird im Leben dir mehr genommen als gegeben are notably airless and effortful, and for much of the recital it seems as though Kaufmann’s suit were made of too heavy a material for dancing. Accompanied by Adam Fischer and the Wiener Philharmoniker, Wiener Blut, Wiener Blut, the Uhrenduett from Die Fledermaus, and Danilo and Hanna’s melting reunion from The Merry Widow, Lippen schweigen, feature fragrant cameos from the soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen, sounding rather more relaxed in this idiom than the leading man. The orchestral sound glistens like Cellophane. (Sony Classical)

 back top