New York Classical Review, Sun Oct 10, 2021
|By David Wright
Liederabend, New York, Carnegiehall, 9. Oktober 2021
Jonas Kaufmann mixes rare Liszt and lieder favorites in Carnegie recital
Franz Liszt a neglected composer? In the realm of lieder recitals, he surely is.
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch redressed that injustice
Saturday night in Carnegie Hall, leading off their program with nine vivid
selections from Liszt’s catalogue of over 80 songs.
They then shifted
gears from the unjustly ignored to the justly famous, treating the audience
to their deeply expressive take on the greatest vocal hits of Mozart,
Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Richard Strauss, among others.
brief remarks from the stage, Kaufmann explained the bifurcated program as
the result of “two projects” he and Deutsch had been working on during the
pandemic shutdown, including their recent recording of Liszt lieder and
(apparently) making definitive versions of the classic songs every voice
student eventually tackles.
In an evening that emphasized poetic
inflection over vocal heroics, the tenor explored shades of piano and
pianissimo that blended bewitchingly with the pianist’s artful voicing and
coloration. The audience seemed to hold its breath at their diminuendos.
That said, the piano’s role in these works sounded needlessly
soft-pedaled for most of the evening. Although Liszt’s piano parts mostly
avoided his grand virtuoso style, the composer was at the piano in Weimar
when these songs were introduced, and it’s hard to imagine him taking as far
a back seat to the singer as Deutsch did on Saturday.
and pianist received scrupulously equal billing in Carnegie’s advertising
and the printed program, their body language onstage told a different story,
that of Big Star and humble accompanist. In their music-making, one missed
the dialogue of equals, the robust scene-setting of piano introductions and
codas, and the boost that an energetic piano crescendo can give a vocalist
of Kaufmann’s stature.
With that reservation, one could thoroughly
enjoy becoming acquainted with such Liszt gems as his two settings of texts
by Heine, “Vergiftet sind meine Lieder” and “Im Rhom, im schönen Strome,”
the first a bracingly bitter love song, the second a cheerful ripple through
a text better known today as a harsh episode in Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
Speaking of contrasting settings, Liszt himself made two different
versions of Goethe’s “Freudvoll und leidvoll.” As Saturday’s performances
made clear, one busy setting took its cue from Freude (joy) and the other,
more reflective one from Leid (sorrow).
The melody of “O lieb, so
lang du lieben kannst” was so memorable that Liszt’s arrangement of it for
piano solo later became one of his greatest hits, Liebestraum No. 3.
Liszt set Goethe’s narrative poem of a king’s deathless love, “Es war ein
König in Thule,” in ballad style. Kaufmann told the tale dramatically as
Deutsch sounded the regal motive in the piano.
The floating harmonies
and bell effects of Liszt’s late song “Ihr Glocken von Marling,” composed in
1874, seemed to anticipate Debussy. Kaufmann’s tender phrasing and Deutsch’s
delicate coda sparked spontaneous applause.
Liszt couldn’t resist
some Hungarian rhapsodizing in his genre portrait of “Die drei Zigeuner”
(The three Roma, or “gypsies”). Deutsch executed the piano flourishes
dutifully as Kaufmann celebrated the characters’ devil-may-care attitude
toward life’s hardships.
The chromatic chord progression that opens
“Die Loreley,” described by Liszt’s biographer Alan Walker as “stolen from
the future of music,” anticipated Wagner’s Tristan by a decade. On Saturday,
the tale of siren song and shipwreck rippled and crashed and dwindled,
closing the program’s Liszt section on a breathtaking pianissimo.
Enthusiastic applause ushered the performers offstage for the only pause in
this 75-minute, intermissionless program.
They returned on a
lighthearted note with Schubert’s rollicking “Der Musensohn,” and found the
gentle humor in Mozart’s mock-tragic “Das Veilchen.” Kaufmann’s ease of
intonation and phrasing carried over into a smooth, cheerful version of
The singer’s soft, non-vibrato tone cast a
nocturnal hush over Schubert’s “Wanderers Nachtlied,” while the piano’s
gently bouncing rhythm propped up the nostalgic scene in Dvořák’s “Als die
alte Mutter.” The rocking piano and long diminuendo of Brahms’s
“Wiegenlied,” Op. 49, No. 4, seemed sure to waft any child into dreamland.
Deep piano bass and chords set the scene for Carl Bohm’s “Still wie die
Nacht,” billed as the composer’s Op. 326, No. 27. (And you thought Liszt was
In another novelty, “In mir klingt ein Lied,” the
20th-century Viennese critic and composer Alois Melichar fitted his own love
poem to an abridged version of Chopin’s Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3.
Singer and pianist made strong cases for both of these rarities.
also brought a surge of passion to more familiar items, Tchaikovsky’s “Nur
wer die Sehnsucht kennt” and Strauss’s “Zueignung,” although a bigger piano
challenge in the latter’s climax would have been welcome.
“Selige Stunde” stepped along agreeably to a steady piano beat, setting the
stage for the program to close on perhaps its high point of collaborative
musicianship, the balanced and finely woven performances of Wolf’s
“Verborgenheit” and Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden.”
latter’s evanescent close was followed by a roar of applause, which
eventually sparked six encores: Schumann’s rapt “Mondnacht,” Schubert’s
jaunty “Die Forelle,” Wagner’s expressive “Träume” from Wesendonck Lieder,
and three by Strauss: “Nichts,” “Morgen,” and, for a grand vocal sendoff,