San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2011
Joshua Kosman
Recital, Berkeley, 13 March 2011
Jonas Kaufmann review: Tenor flexes at Zellerbach
If the world of classical music has a Justin Bieber, it can only be tenor Jonas Kaufmann, who drove the Sunday night crowd in Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall into paroxysms of frenzied applause - all before he'd even opened his mouth.

This is to take nothing - or at least not much - away from Kaufmann's singing, which is forthright and often arresting, albeit in a rough-hewn, muscular sort of way. But presumably an audience that doesn't even wait for the music to begin before roaring its approval has more than just Schumann on its mind.

Sunday's recital, co-presented by Cal Performances and the San Francisco Opera, was the first local appearance by the German artist, and it strengthened the impression left by his operatic and lieder recordings.

Kaufmann sings with a vigorous athleticism and ropy tone that can be impressive in the right circumstances. At his most extroverted, he projects an air of dashing heroism onstage, and he can turn a song into a gripping mini-drama with ease.

But along with that leading-man persona, Kaufmann's vocal weightiness combined with strenuous top notes to overwhelm more intimate or expressive repertoire. And for all of the singer's vivacity, a listener longed for more tonal clarity to match his elegant diction.

The program, accompanied with dexterous grace by pianist Helmut Deutsch, was devoted to songs by Schumann and Strauss, of which the latter proved far more rewarding.

In Strauss' more extravagantly dramatic selections, including "Sehnsucht" and "Ich liebe dich," Kaufmann turned the music outward with aplomb, building conscientiously to the music's surging climaxes and shaping large paragraphs adroitly. And though he lacked the agility to maneuver the light phrasing and silvery cascades of the "Simple Tunes" of Op. 21, he offered a gorgeous, plainspoken account of "Freundliche Vision" ("Pleasant Reverie") and concluded with an impressive tour through the Four Songs, Op. 27.

Schumann's songs, occupying the first half, left a more mixed impression. Kaufmann seemed to be finding his bearings through the opening set of selections from the Op. 35 songs, before launching into a performance of the "Dichterliebe" cycle that was more often blustery than affecting.

The best songs were those that allowed him to present his thunderous side, including "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome," with its imposing evocation of the Cologne cathedral. Music that called for a defter, more nuanced touch often sounded forced.

The enthusiasm of the audience won it a string of five encores, beginning with more Strauss ("Breit über mein haupt," "Nichts" and "Wie sollten wir geheim sie halten") and concluding with Léhar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" and Schumann's "Mondnacht."


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