The Times, 2 November 2010
Hillary Finch
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, London, Wigmore Hall, 31 October 2010
Kaufmann/Deutsch - Concert - Wigmore Hall
Received wisdom had it that this might just be the greatest performance of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin since Fritz Wunderlich (Remember him? No, nor do I). No wonder, then, that the Lieder world had been queueing in Wigmore Street since 11am — and that there was standing room only. How many tenors, after all, take on Florestan in Fidelio, Siegmund in Walküre, and Schubert as well? But Jonas Kaufmann has that sort of voice and artistry: an heroic tenor who can find infinitely subtle nuances of sound and meaning in poetry first aired in Viennese drawing rooms.

How does he do it? Well, not simply and almost imperceptibly as in the recorded art of a lyric tenor like Wunderlich, Kaufmann exploits consummate thespian craft. What we heard on Monday were highly skilfully selected modes of rhetoric, creating a drama not for the stage but for the soul and the psyche.

The voice itself took a little while to settle, despite the vigour and assurance of Helmut Deutsch's pianistic evocation of millstream, mill-wheel, rushing water and beating heart. The love-lorn miller's apprentice had to find a foothold. But once that was done, Kaufmann's confiding of his love to the babbling brook drew us close to his side in breath control which gave a rare, hushed urgency to his questionings. Within this reflective mode, there was a world of longing in each repeated phrase, and a world of heartache as Schubert instinctively placed crucially emotive words at the top of the vocal register. Another trick of the trade unique to Kaufmann — and enabled by a peerless technique — is to thread words so delicately along a line that, at speed, in songs of impatience or ecstatic illusion, they barely seem articulated at all. Yet every word can be heard. And when disillusion sets in — and a real rival or imagined love appears — then Kaufmann grits his teeth in bitterness and irony, as words snap through music. Kaufmann's heroic tenor rang out thrillingly for one last time, now shaking with anger, as the disappointed lover reviles nature's verdant green. And then the miracle of half-voice, totally steady, and as though sung from a great distance, in the last sighing dialogue with the brook, and the final dissolution into the ether. The concert will be broadcast on Radio 3 on November 10 .

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