|By Christopher Corwin
Liederabend, New York, Carnegiehall, 9. Oktober 2021
Superstar Tenor Jonas Kaufmann Performs at Carnegie Hall
Only after the ninth Liszt song did Kaufmann and Deutsch leave stage
for a short break.
Indoor performances of classical music
have slowly begun to return to New York City with September seeing the
season openers of both the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera
at Lincoln Center.
On Saturday night Carnegie Hall’s Stern
Auditorium hosted only its second presentation since March 2020 when
heart-throb handsome opera superstar Jonas Kaufmann made his first local
appearance in nearly three years for a lieder recital accompanied by Helmut
Deutsch, his splendid long-time collaborator. His nearly sold-out concert
was the first event of October’s “month of tenors,” a striking indication
that the world’s greatest voices are once again being heard around the city!
When I arrived Saturday, the line of concertgoers waiting to have their
vaccination status checked before entering the theater snaked from Carnegie
Hall’s entrance down Seventh Avenue to 56th Street and then around the
corner and far beyond the stage door! Remarkably, the performance started
only about ten minutes late. Early concerns that older adults would be
particularly hesitant about returning to live performances in light of the
recent Delta variant surge were belied by the noticeably large number of
seniors in attendance.
A beaming Kaufmann and Deutsch entered both in
white tie and tails to tumultuous, prolonged applause which joyously
returned when the tenor expressed his relief and happiness at being able to
sing once again for live audiences. In his brief remarks Kaufmann also
mentioned that the evening’s program would feature the fruits of months of
study and recording occasioned by the pandemic’s closure of opera houses and
concert halls. The first songs of the intermission-less recital were by
Franz Liszt, the focus of the pair’s just released CD “Freudvoll und
Liedvoll” on Sony Classics.
There was some anxiety that the tenor
might not appear as late last month he canceled three performances of La
Forza del Destino at his home theater, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. But,
in his first song, the dramatic “Vergiftet sind meine Liebe,” Kaufmann gave
notice that he was in excellent voice boldly sending out ringing high notes
that filled the large auditorium.
Liszt’s songs, while not entirely
ignored, are programmed far less often than those of other lieder masters
like Schubert, Brahms and Schumann.
One is most likely to hear in
recital the composer’s grand “Tre Sonetti di Petrarca” which Kaufmann
includes on his CD but chose not to perform on Saturday when he concentrated
entirely on Liszt’s German song repertoire. The nine works offered excellent
opportunities for Kaufmann to display his sterling qualities as a
recitalist. While Carnegie Hall helpfully kept the house lights on so one
could follow along the provided texts, his vividly communicative
storytelling during songs likely unfamiliar to most of the audience surely
encouraged them to concentrate on him.
Anyone disappointed that
Kaufmann wasn’t offering an evening of arias still got glimpses of his
“operatic” side in several highly dramatic Liszt songs like “Es war ein
König in Thule” (a selection from Goethe’s Faust also prominently featured
in Gounod’s opera) and “Die drei Zigeuner.” For them he cranked up the
intensity eschewing his usually cool approach to thrilling effect
Many may have been surprised that no intermission was scheduled nor was the
program divided into the usual shorter groupings found at most lieder
recitals. Only after the ninth Liszt song did Kaufmann and Deutsch leave
stage for a short break. They then returned for thirteen songs by twelve
composers from “Selige Stunde” (Blessed Hour), the other CD that they
recorded during the pandemic.
After the demanding, rarer Liszt
songs, the second half offered “chestnuts” like Mozart’s charming “Das
Veilchen” and Brahms’s “Lullaby,” as well as one of Dvorak’s “Songs My
Mother Taught Me” and Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart.” Kaufmann’s
dark burnished tenor and intently earnest manner made these sometimes overly
familiar songs sound freshly minted.
While another singer might have
placed a show-stopping song like Strauss’s “Zueignung” at the end, he chose
to close both the CD and Saturday’s recital with Mahler’s sublimely moving
“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” from the Rückert Lieder. His blissful
rendition might have made for a perfect conclusion but the roaring audience
wouldn’t let him go.
No fewer than six encores followed including
Schumann’s “Mondnacht” and Schubert’s “Die Forelle.” While a Boston Symphony
Orchestra concert of the third act of Tristan und Isolde starring Kaufmann
was canceled in the spring of 2020, we got a fleeting glimpse of his Tristan
(which he performed for the first time on stage in Munich this past summer)
with his haunting encore of Wagner’s “Träume” from the Wesemdonck Lieder.
Three more Strauss songs including “Morgen” followed, but the final one
was swiftly aborted when Kaufmann angrily stopped to call out an audience
member blatantly filming him. “I give you everything” he starkly pleaded but
“you break the rules” by recording! His outburst was greeted with loud
support from the audience and he began again the resplendent “Cäcilie” whose
climactic high note was greeted by the concert’s biggest salvo of bravos. He
had by then sung for nearly two hours with scarcely a break.
Kaufmann’s operatic appearances in the US in recent years have dwindled to a
handful solely at the Met, his Carnegie concert was the second stop in a
cross-country tour throughout October that will take him to a number of
cities in which he’s never before appeared.