Opera News, June 2010
Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin
Die Schöne Müllerin is odd territory for a Siegmund and Lohengrin; here Kaufmann is looking back at his early years as a more purely lyric tenor. (In an accompanying interview, the forty-year-old tenor describes the cycle as the province of "a young voice" and says he wanted to record it "before it was too late.") His is very much an opera singer's reading. It conjures the theater as much as the concert hall; one can almost imagine Kaufmann commandeering the stage, with Helmut Deutsch using his big-boned pianism to lead the performance from the pit.

Whereas Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in his 1961 EMI recording with Gerald Moore, maintains a prismatic relationship to the protagonist — commenting on the character as much as embodying him — Kaufmann clearly approaches the assignment as a portrayal: until he sings in the person of the brook itself in the last two songs, there's no distance between himself and the young miller. We apprehend the character as we would, say, Kaufmann's Alfredo, and we react to his plight as embodied by the singer.

Kaufmann's grand manner doesn't preclude subtlety, or quiet singing either, as demonstrated beautifully in "Die Neugierige." But he isn't entirely comfortable with the cascading arpeggios — the aural correlative of a rushing brook — that punctuate the work; these are especially rough in "Mein," the song that closes off the cycle's first half. Nor is he ideally pure in the role's upper reaches: don't expect anything like the preternatural sweetness of Fritz Wunderlich in his 1966 DGrecording. Still, Kaufmann's considerable appeal sustains the performance. This may not be a Müllerin for the ages, but it provides new insight into a worthy singer.

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