The Telegraph, 07 Apr 2014
By Rupert Christiansen
Schubert: Winterreise, London, Royal Opera House, 6. April 2014
Winterreise, Royal Opera House, review
Jonas Kaufmann's Winterreise proved the performer is at the peak of his artistry, says Rupert Christiansen
The sudden dip in the weather over the weekend set the right mood for Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch’s trek across the bleak spiritual terrain of Schubert’s tragic song-cycle: a musical journey that ventured close to the cliff-edge of death.

Kaufmann, let it be said at once, was in wonderful voice. He may have accrued an unenviable reputation for virus-related cancellation, but here he was in perfect command of his instrument, steady yet supple, shaping every phrase meticulously and pitching perfectly judged pianissimo in his head register.

Anyone hoping for anguished howls or Wagnerian grandstanding would have been disappointed: moving his hands no higher than his chest and only rarely (for example, at “Da ist meiner Liebsten Haus”) flourishing the clarion trumpet that has defied Scarpia and brandished Nothung, he scaled his performance at a level of introverted intensity that avoided any hint of tenorial preening.

Kaufmann’s Winterreise is emphatically that of a young man - the same sort of young man who narrates Die schöne Müllerin, bursting with optimism until the girl he loves proves false and life is suddenly drained of all meaning and beauty. A romantic dreamer, prone to reverie, he discovers in “Rückblick” and “Frühlingstraum” that memory is not so much sweet escape as sharp pain.

By the time he reaches “Die Krähe”, sung here with exquisite refinement, Kaufmann’s sensitive young man is clearly turning neurasthenic: despondency turns to suicidal madness in the unhinged “Der Leiermann”, but not before “Das Wirtshaus” and “Die Nebensonnen” has plunged him to the midnight of depression - “Im Dunkeln wird mir wohler sein”, he moans: “I would be happier in the dark.” The veteran Helmut Deutsch, formerly the pianist for Hermann Prey, must have accompanied these songs hundreds of times, but there was no sense of routine on this occasion: he matched Kaufmann’s determination to keep it quiet with playing of an eerie translucency that at times seemed almost recessive - as though the piano was itself not so much a companionable friend as a haunting ghost from the past.

Too recessive? If I have a criticism of this profoundly thoughtful and cumulatively moving interpretation, it is only a doubt as to whether it would have resonated sufficiently in the less acoustically favourable parts of the auditorium. Privileged with a seat in the Stalls, I knew that I was in the presence of one of the great singers of our time, at the peak of his artistry.

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