The Daily Telegraph, August 04, 2014
Steve Moffatt
Jonas Kaufmann gives Schubert’s Winterreise the operatic treatment
Singing sensation Jonas Kaufmann is coming to Australia for the first time this month and Australia is rightly excited.

At 45 the German tenor is in his singing prime and his stellar rise has been marked by wise choices in the roles he tackles. As a result he is equally at home in Wagner as he is in Verdi or the verismo and bel canto roles, as two of his recent album releases attest.

That said, as a lieder singer I find his latest release, Schubert’s Winterreise, a little disappointing. These 24 songs — some of the bleakest ever written (notwithstanding Leonard Cohen) — plot with uncanny insight a lonely lovelorn wanderer’s battles with nature’s hostility and his ultimate descent into madness.

Wilhelm Muller’s verses, and Schubert’s masterly settings, are a series of short psychodramas which speak intimately to the listener, so much so that it’s only three or four songs into the cycle when we realise that the hero is barking mad.

Kaufmann treats these songs too operatically for this reviewer’s taste. The intimacy seems lost, somehow, in the grand vocal gestures. The phrasing is perfect — perhaps too perfect — and the diction cannot be faulted. Helmut Deutsch’s sympathetic piano accompaniment is hard to fault.

But what the album lacks is that sense of poetry that truly great lieder specialists bring to Schubert. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau set the benchmark impossibly high with his many recordings in the 1950s and ‘60s (his later ones are less impressive), so it is unfair to compare anything that has followed with his work.

Although probably the best recordings are by baritones, Schubert’s keys suit the higher voice and several top tenors, Peter Pears among them, have conquered this Himalayan masterpiece.

There are a couple of fine recent recordings that I would buy before Kaufmann’s Sony Classical album. Check out Austrian baritone Florian Boesch’s recording with Martin Martineau. In my book this is the singer who comes closest to Dieskau. Matthias Goerne’s recording with Alfred Brendel is also superb.

That said, Kaufmann is one of the greats who has been justifiably compared with the younger Placido Domingo. His two concerts at Sydney Opera House concert hall should be highlights of the musical year.

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