The Classic Review, October 18, 2022
David A. McConnell

Insieme – Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tézier
I came to this recording with high expectations, having written positive reviews for Ludovic Tézier’s first solo album (May 2021) and the Kaufmann/Pappano performance of Verdi’s Otello (June 2020). In these recordings the theatrical characterization and keen intelligence of both singers is consistently impressive, qualities that are readily apparent right through this distinguished collaboration.

The recital opens with “In un coupé?” from La Bohčme. Pappano’s excellent orchestra sets the scene, accompanying singing that is both resplendent and enthralling. Both singers have commanding technique and a richly upholstered, honey toned lyricism. Their performance fully captures the forlorn sadness of failed love, though their sound is perhaps a bit more mature to suggest the youthful innocence of these characters. “Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior, che pensi?” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda follows, Tézier making Barnaba’s manipulative mind games tangible.

The remainder of the program features selections from Verdi operas. Two duets from “Les Vępres siciliennes,” heard here in the original French, show a composer that embraces a bolder color palette and an almost verismo style of text setting. Kaufmann and Tézier fully become their characters – in the Act III duet where Montfort reveals that he is Henri’s father, the psychological tension is genuine. Likewise, the sense of friendship in “Le voila! C’est l’infant!” from Don Carlos. I was keen to hear the “Era la note” duet from Otello: in my review of the entire opera, I suggested that Kaufmann’s portrayal had grown deeper compared to his 2018 Covent Garden DVD recording. Yet here Kaufmann is, if anything, even more heart wrenching, as Tézier’s Iago convinces Otello of Desdemona’s infidelity, laying the groundwork for the work’s tragic end.

The liner notes being with a brief discussion between the two singers in which their mutual admiration and enjoyment is unmistakable, as it is in this recital. An excellent discussion of the music by Bjřrn Woll follows, but texts and translations are not provided. I must, once again, remind record companies just how frustrating this is – with such communicative artists in such compelling performances, the listener should have text and translation at hand. While I own recordings of the Puccini and Verdi, I do not have any of the Ponchielli, and I spent over 15 minutes searching the internet for a translation. Is the expectation that all opera lovers speak fluent Italian? Or must opera lovers have books of translations at the ready? What if a person new to opera hears a track from this recording on the radio, or online, and then purchases the entire album – why make it a chore for them to understand the texts? Surely, at the very least, a link to translations could be provided.

Sony’s engineering presents a wide-ranging, cinematic sound that more than once reminded me of Decca’s glamorous Karajan opera recordings. While one might suggest that the at times “larger than life” sound does not serve the more intimate moments as well (admittedly, there are few such moments in this recital), there is no denying the sheer weight and tonal splendor of the music making. Rarely has this orchestra sounded so refulgent. Pappano’s opera expertise ensures every track is unerringly paced and has maximum dramatic impact.

This is an operatic recording that clearly exhibits a love and emotional involvement with the music. The chemistry between these two singers and this excellent orchestra makes this a particularly noteworthy album.

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