The Telegraph, 5 Jan 2015
By Rupert Christiansen
Liederabend, Wigmore Hall, London, 4. Januar 2015
Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch, Wigmore Hall, revew: 'Oh what precious kitsch!'
This lieder recital went on a remarkable journey from furious anger to sumptuous sensuality, says Rupert Christiansen
As so often in song recitals, the clinching magic was sprinkled over the encore: when Jonas Kaufmann sang the nocturne “Mondnacht” from Schumann’s Liederkreis in a half-voice of perfectly controlled quiet rapture, he held his audience entranced in a breathless hush. At last, he seemed fully human.

Previously the dominant notes had been those of forthright virility, heroic intensity, impassioned ardour. With his romantically handsome appearance and knightly nobility of demeanour, this great German tenor unstintingly brandished his vocal weaponry as though he wanted the walls of the Wigmore Hall to shake – throughout, the steadiness and the power were as admirable as the musical intelligence, but in all the emotional turmoil and extravert expressivity, the essential person-to-person intimacy of the lied sometimes got lost.

The programme started with a selection from Schumann’s Kernerlieder – before he sang himself in, Kaufmann’s tone sounded glassily hard and unyielding; the music was being comprehensively attacked rather than subtly seduced. Only in the last two songs, “Frage” and “Stille Tränen”, did some vibrant warmth begin to glow through a beautifully articulated head voice.

He and his electrically alert pianist, the youthful veteran Helmut Deutsch, went to give a bleak but forceful reading of Schumann’s Dichterliebe – the poet’s despair always bubbling toxically at the surface, spitting venom and irony over “Ich grolle nicht” and “Im Rhein”. “Ein Jungling liebt ein Mädchen” could have done with a lighter touch (the thought of nuts and sledgehammers was irresistible), but “Ich hab’ im Traum” and “Allnachtlich” were both imbued with the requisite dream-like poise and delicacy. Overall, the projected effect was impressive rather than moving – an angry young man, and not a very nice one either.

After the interval, Kaufmann took to the original piano version of Wagner’s Wesendonck lieder, usually the domain of mezzo-sopranos. Here “Der Engel” was painted in a creamy legato, and “Im Treibhaus” exuded all the sickeningly sweet perfume of erotic obsession.

Yet it was only when he turned to Italian and Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets did the singer begin to relax. These settings are as much about the piano as the voice, and with Deutsch sometimes boldly taking the lead in playing of blazing clarity, Kaufmann could soften his stance and dig into the sumptuous sensuality of the vocal lines. Kitsch perhaps, but – to misquote Lady Jane in Patience – oh what precious kitsch!

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