Sunday Times, January 24, 2010
Hugh Canning
Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin Jonas Kaufmann (tenor), Helmut Deutsch (piano)
We have become so used to Schubert’s miller lad being sung by English tenors as a flutey-toned, dry-voiced, namby-pamby, overintellectualising introvert that to hear Kaufmann’s dark-timbred, beautiful, near-heroic and extrovert performance comes as something of a shock. I doubt that Schubert’s cycle, purely in vocal terms, has been more thrillingly sung on disc since Fritz Wunderlich recorded it for Deutsche Grammophon. I first heard Kaufmann sing the cycle with Deutsch at the piano in an unforgettable late-night recital at the 2002 Edinburgh Festival, when he was 33, but he has been wise to wait until he was 40 before setting down his mature interpretation. He still sounds a fresh-faced youth in the opening songs, launching the side-slapping Das Wandern (Wandering) with marvellous, athletic vigour, even if his voice has darkened considerably. His diction and eloquence in German is immaculate, but the years have brought insights and vocal refinements that make this version of Schubert’s masterpiece one of the most compelling in recent years. I haven’t heard Die Liebe Farbe (The Beloved Colour), in which the rejected lad declares that he will dress in the green of the hunter, whom the titular fair maid of the mill prefers to him, sung with more sardonic bitterness than here, and the final three songs — Kaufmann reducing his substantial tenor to a thread of tone — have rarely moved me more. With more resignation than self-pity, he leaves us in no doubt of his tragic end, lulled to an eternal sleep in the stream in which he drowns himself.

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