Classics Today
Review by: David Vernier
Kaufmann’s Popular Success
Projects such as this can go so horribly wrong. Opera singers trying to perform “lighter” fare usually do no favors either to themselves or to the music. Only rarely does a classically trained singer working exclusively in that world show an ability to convincingly capture a popular style; usually the inflections and expressive nuances are just “off”, unnatural-sounding, and sometimes even humorous in their attempts at loosening or altering long-practiced, specialized technique. Fortunately, the music on this happily successful effort is many steps removed from the merely “popular”–and the singer, tenor Jonas Kaufmann, is likewise far from a typical opera singer.

The works on offer are characterized by Kaufmann as “tenor hits from the age of the talkies”, a special time in Germany’s cultural history when his grandfather, from whom he first heard many of these tunes, was studying in Berlin, a period that for this recording roughly spans the decade from 1925-35, the world of Sally Bowles and the Kit Kat Klub, as well as Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, Paul Abraham, and Erich Korngold. In a way, these songs are the “classical music” of a time and place during which many of the composers of the real thing were expelled, banned, exiled, or imprisoned. Yes, these songs are lighter fare than we associate with the most refined operatic repertoire, but, especially as Kaufmann sings them–or rather, performs them–their “lesser” musical/artistic credentials warrant absolutely no apologies. And there are many, many moments of music and singing as spectacular as you’ll hear in any opera.

I’ve praised Kaufmann’s “rich, baritonal tenor” and have cited his “uncommon lyricism and emotional depth” and “lovely high-register soft singing” (in his recording of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin), and in his review of Wagner arias, colleague Robert Levine is equally impressed, describing the tenor’s “easy ascents above the staff”, “smooth legato”, “phrasing that confirms great musicianship”, and “beautiful, fully rounded, lustrous sound”. You get the idea: Kaufmann has established himself–at least in the opera world–as perhaps the pre-eminent tenor. All of the above traits and techniques and abilities are on display here, from the two versions of Lehár’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz!” (one in English, the other in French) and Kálmán’s “Grüss mir mein Wien”, to Eduard Künneke’s “Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk” (complete with concluding high-C) and Korngold’s gorgeous, disc-highlight “Glück, das mir verblieb”. The latter is a duet–and here is another plus for this recital: the singer accompanying Kaufmann on this and two other numbers, soprano Julia Kleiter, is wonderful, a superb singer who matches the tenor perfectly, vocally and stylistically.

The accompaniments, including several arrangements by Andreas Tarkmann, are all finely played by the Berlin Radio Symphony and Jochen Rieder, and recorded in the broadcasting studio of the former East German Radio–noted for its excellent acoustics, and apparently retaining much of its ambience from that earlier time. You may not love absolutely all of the selections here (I could have done without the too-sappy “My little nest of heavenly blue”, another by Lehár), but I’m pretty certain that you will enjoy every single note. Highly recommended.

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