Washington Post, April 18, 2010
Anne Midgette
Reviews of classical albums by Jonas Kaufman[, Konrad Jarnot and Michael Maniaci]
Tenors are like hothouse flowers. But Jonas Kaufmann has held up well. Given the popularity of the 40-year-old German tenor, and the fragility of the breed, it's notable that Decca waited until this month to release his second aria album -- called "Sehnsucht" ("Longing") in Germany, where it came out last June -- in the United States. It coincides with the release of Kaufmann's account of Schubert's classic 20-song cycle "Die Schöne Müllerin" ("The Miller's Beautiful Daughter") -- an embarrassment of riches for Kaufmann's many fans.

Kaufmann is a beautifully expressive singer. The question is whether he'll stay in the right repertory for his fine-grained voice. The aria album (conducted with bravura by Claudio Abbado leading his Mahler Chamber Orchestra) runs the gamut from Mozart's Tamino (the lighter end of the tenor spectrum) to Beethoven's Florestan and Wagner's Parsifal (the heavier end).

Musically, Kaufmann has no problem with any of it (though the "Winterstürme" from Wagner's "Die Walküre" is a weak link; he sounds oddly uninvolved), but the recording raises questions about whether the heavier repertory -- to which he's increasingly tending -- is taxing his voice. His sound is exposed, naked, just this side of raw in the gradually crescendoing "Gott!" that opens Florestan's aria in "Fidelio" -- one of many examples that are emotionally communicative but technically worrying. Even in Tamino's arias, there's not a natural cushion to the sound, though Decca's recording engineers have done their best to provide one.

Yet Kaufmann's voice seems better suited to opera than to Schubert's songs. The "Schöne Müllerin" cycle is delivered with tremendous nuance, only sometimes crossing the border into self-consciousness. But the voice doesn't sound easy: It rings out with the same kind of effort Kaufmann puts into the opera repertory, without scaling down or lapsing into melting intimacy. Kaufmann appears to be a singer who doesn't change his approach from opera to song. For my money, despite Helmut Deutsch's fine accompaniment, this doesn't rival memories of some of the great "Schöne Müllerins" -- Wunderlich, Souzay -- that are still available.

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