Jonas Kaufmann impresses with his finely judged phrasing, psychological acuity and seductive swagger
Gramophone, 01/01/2020
Edward Seckerson
If you’re watching the calories, stop reading now. This evocative collection of Viennese sweetmeats, of wine, women, song and Sachertorte, does not countenance the notion of abstinence. Kaufmann’s love affair with Vienna – City of Dreams – was born in the Tyrol (his grandparents’ farm) and carried through to operatic stardom. His first professional production was an operetta – Strauss’ A Night in Venice – and he embraces the style, the timbre, the allure, even the specific accent of this repertoire with complete conviction and self-evident delight.

The great thing about these performances is that they sound ‘lived in’. The trick in performing Viennese operetta and Viennese chansons (and this selection has been shrewdly chosen caress both) is surely that they don’t sound ‘artful’ but rather that the impression is of them slipping off the vocal chords, spontaneous, relaxed and over-easy. The range here is from numbers born into a cabaret style like Hans May’s ‘Heute its Der schönste Tag in mine Leben’ and Hermann Leopoldi’s ‘In einem kleinen Cafe in Hernals’ (where Kaufmann might be enjoying a slice of Kardinalschnitte) to the full tenurial voluptuousness of the Korngold version of ‘Sei mir Gergrüsst du holds Venezia’ from Strauss’ A Night in Venice and ‘Zwei Märchenaugen’ from Kalman’s Die Zirkusprinzessin (The Circus Princess) which abound in zigeuner heat and is described by Kaufmann as operetta’s answer to I Pagliacci’s Canio. It’s in numbers like this where one forgets that maybe there were fine details that Kaufmann might have finessed more deftly a few years back and one is eternally grateful for his beefy, darkening tone.

There is so much to savour here – but above all it’s the stylistic understanding (and in this experience and hindsight are invaluable) that carries all before it. There is a oneness, too, with his collaborators – Adam Fischer and the inimitable Vienna Philharmonic, their oft-swooning strings festooning the voice in Robert Stolz’s utterly gorgeous ‘Im Prater blahs winder die Bäume’. I love too Carl Zeller’s ‘Schenkt man such Rosen in Tirol’ with its super-catchy chorus and Weinberger’s ‘Du Wärst für mich die Frau Gewesen’ where Kaufmann’s seductive head-voice is sexily shadowed by solo violin. By contrast we are in darker Kurt Weillian territory with the despondent really bitter-sweet Hans May number ‘Es word im Leben dir meh genome all gegeben’.

Oh, and fear not, Lehar’s Widow waltzes in (along with soprano Rachel Willis-Sorenson) for ‘Lippen Schweigen’ – one of the very great tunes, one for the ages – all ages.

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