Music Web International
Göran Forsling
You Mean the World to Me
“Pop hits from a golden era” says the subheading. The typeface and the cover-photo showing a microphone from early radio and recording studios tell us what a golden era the late 1920s and the 1930s were ... and what hits. All the big names are here, Lehár, Tauber (yes, he was composer too), Stolz, Kálmán, Abraham, Benatzky but also some who are no longer household names: Werner Richard Heymann, Hans May and Mischa Spoliansky. Eduard Künneke is remembered mainly for the song Ich bin nu rein armer Wandergesell from the operetta Der Vetter aus Dingsda. Erich Wolfgang Korngold is the odd man out, since Die tote Stadt is a serious opera, but the scene recorded here has become very popular, right from the beginning when Lotte Lehmann and Richard Tauber recorded it.

Heymann was one of the most important composers during the end of the Weimar Republic. In particular he was famous for his many film scores and during the Second World War he active in Hollywood. In 1931 he wrote the music for Der Kongress tantz, which was the first great German music film and the year after he scored another success with the songs from Ein blonder Traum.

Austrian-born Hans May also wrote film-music and the title song for Ein Lied geht um die Welt was written for the diminutive Joseph Schmidt, who became enormously popular during the 1930s.

Russian-born Mischa Spoliansky settled in Berlin at the beginning of the Great War and wrote a lot of popular music. In 1932 he wrote music for the film Das Lied einer Nacht and the song Heute Nacht oder nie became a world hit. He emigrated to London in 1933, when Hitler came to power — Spoliansky was Jewish — and there he started a new career as film music composer. He wrote among other thing four songs for Paul Robeson. A lot more interesting information can be found in the booklet.

The arrangements also carry the glamour of the golden age. The Lehár songs are original – and Lehár was an excellent orchestrator – Kálmán likewise and Korngold. Even so, Andreas N Tarkmann has provided ingenious recreations of 1930s sounds for several of the songs: Tauber, Stolz, Heymann, May and Spoliansky. They sound authentic but rendered in state-of-the-art recording quality. Matthias Grimminger has dressed up Benatzky and together with Henning Hagedorn has reconstructed the two Abraham numbers. ‘Historically informed’ is not just a term for baroque performance, it is just as applicable to this type of music. Full marks for this.

I suspected before putting the disc in my CD-player that as intelligent an artist as Jonas Kaufmann wouldn’t walk into the same trap as many an illustrious tenor has done before and over-sing, killing these beautiful melodies by trying to break the sound barrier. I was right. Kaufmann is the possessor of possibly the most glorious tenor voice now before the public and his admirers will not be disappointed. When the situation is right he lets loose and induces goose-bumps. For much of the time he sings lightly and intimately in half-voice, as Nicolai Gedda often did in his numerous operetta recordings. A lieder singer’s approach is definitely not out of place in this repertoire. You are my heart’s delight is one of the real bravura numbers of this genre, and bravura we get – but with refinement. Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert from Giuditta is another display vehicle but very often Kaufmann shows off in the opposite direction: airy, conversational, with excellent enunciation. ‘Non-operatic’ I scribbled down several times, for instance when I was listening to Es muss was Wunderbares sein from The White Horse Inn and Stolz’s Don’t ask me why.

In three of the numbers Kaufmann is joined by the young soprano Julia Kleiter, They sing with wonderful restraint and lyrical warmth in the scene from Viktoria und ihr Husar. It's an old favourite of mine but I don’t think I’ve heard it better sung. The other Abraham number, Diwanpüppchen from his other great success, Die Blume von Hawaii, is something quite different, a show-number in high spirits. The two singers throw themselves wholeheartedly into this hilarious comedy. It's great fun. The Korngold duet is also very fine.

For the finale Kaufmann returns to The Land of Smiles and sings Dein ist mein ganzes Herz, but this time in French. Perhaps the question of language is the fly in the ointment. These are all German songs and arias and they have been sung by many of the great singers in the original language through the years. Here six of the songs are sung in English and one in French and I don’t see any logic in the choice of language. There is no drawback with the singing per se – Kaufmann’s English is excellent. The only reason I can see is that Sony think that the disc will sell even better this way.

Be that as it may, the whole programme is delightful – and those two or three songs that I hadn’t heard before were really nice acquaintances. The singing should I hope win new listeners to this repertoire. An excellent present to all lovers of good singing.

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