The New York Times, FEB. 21, 2014
Recital: Carnegie Hall, 20. Februar 2014
A Tenor Finds Energy for Intense, Lyrical Pain
Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Jonas Kaufmann in Recital at Carnegie Hall
Most tenors, after singing the challenging title role of Massenet’s “Werther,” especially for the high-pressured opening night of a new production at the Metropolitan Opera, would welcome a few days of rest.

Not the tireless German tenor Jonas Kaufmann. On Thursday night, two days after he triumphed as Werther in the Met’s new production, Mr. Kaufmann made his Carnegie Hall recital debut. Joined by his longtime accompanist, the refined Austrian pianist Helmut Deutsch, Mr. Kaufmann sang a substantive program of songs by Schumann, Wagner and Liszt and had enough stamina and voice left for six encores.

Though Mr. Kaufmann may be the most sought-after tenor in opera right now, he has always made a place in his career for song, especially German lieder. His latest recording (on Sony Classical) is Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle, with Mr. Deutsch.

Many singers have trouble adapting their operatic voices to the more intimate art of the song recital. And song programs are more suited to places much smaller than Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Kaufmann certainly let his dark, virile voice soar during dramatically intense outbursts of particular songs. But the most transfixing moments came during the most intimate passages, when he sang with light, floated lyricism and aching tenderness.

He opened with five lesser-heard songs from Schumann’s “Zwölf Gedichte,” settings of poems by Justinus Kerner. He brought exquisite poignancy to “Erstes Grün” (“First Green”), in which a bereft young man seeks solace from the fresh grass.

He next turned to Schumann’s song cycle “Dichterliebe” (“A Poet’s Love”). Many singers present this familiar work almost as a dramatic soliloquy, enacting the pained feelings in the words (by the poet Heinrich Heine) and the music. But a song recital is also a kind of musicalized poetry reading, and Mr. Kaufmann’s performance was ennobled by poetic elegance and restraint. I have seldom listened to the words of these poems so intently.

In the opening song, “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai” (“In the glorious month of May”), Mr. Kaufmann, accompanied with milky sound and flowing grace by Mr. Deutsch, made the words vivid while conveying the protagonist’s bliss, touched with confusion, over recollections of love confided amid the splendors of spring. Is this love doomed? Already over? We are about to learn more. Rather than bristling with bitterness over his lover’s coldness during “Ich grolle nicht” (“I bear no grudge”), Mr. Kaufmann delivered the song like a clinical indictment, which made it more wrenching.

After intermission, he sang Wagner’s “Wesendonck Lieder,” a work that was intended for a female voice. But Mr. Kaufmann pointed out that the texts (love poems by Mathilde Wesendonck) have “not a single indication of the gender of the ‘narrator.’ ” He is right. Besides, whatever Wagner intended, my guess is the composer would have been swept away by Mr. Kaufmann’s distinguished performance.

The program ended with Mr. Kaufmann’s rhapsodic, ardent singing of Liszt’s “Tre sonetti di Petrarca,” settings of Italian sonnets. The piano parts are rich with rippling passagework and brilliant touches, impressively dispatched by Mr. Deutsch.

Responding to repeated ovations, Mr. Kaufmann sang four Richard Strauss songs for his first encores. Speaking to the audience, he said that this was a Strauss year (the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth), and that since we are all now “fed up with Wagner and Verdi” after their joint bicentennials last year, he was looking forward to singing lots of Strauss, one of his favorite composers.

He also gave a dreamy account of Schumann’s “Mondnacht,” and ended the evening with a popular song from a Lehar operetta, “Gern hab ich die Frau’n geküsst,” repeating the first verse in English: “Girls were made to love and kiss,/and who am I to interfere with this?” The audience loved it.

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