Jonas KAUFMANN, German opera arias recital
Cond. Claudio Abbado
Decca 478 1463

            Kaufmann-1                   Kaufmann-2
Jonas KAUFMANN, Die Schoene Muellerin
Piano, Helmut Deutsch
Decca 478 1528

Kaufmann’s recent Don Carlo broadcast from Covent Garden caused quite some sensation and rightly so. My expectation were consequently quite high for this new release, a release which only partly fulfilled my expectations. The new star tenor sings arias and excerpts composed by Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. The Wagner excerpts offer some good solid singing but also some over-exposed crooning and very slow tempos. Is the conductor to blame? Don’t think so, as Kaufman is apt to milk some piano phrasings especially in the Lohengrin excerpts. But also Winterstuerme lacks fire, drive, passion and bite and so does the exquisite orchestral (exquisite  in terms of solo instruments and instrumental sound)  playing and interpretation under Abbado. The hero-like, joyous expression of love is lacking in the same way as it was lacking in Vicker’s mezza voce interpretation under Karajan.
The Parsifal excerpts fare much better. His sensitive reading of the text but also his dark-ish, youthful vocal stamina -less tentative than in the Lohengrin and Walkuere arias- prove that his instrument for the title role is right now the best we’ve had in years. Abbado supplies some magical orchestral sounds and the short intervention of the chorus is equally fine.
Most impressive and in fact the best track of the record are the 14 minutes from Die Zauberflote. It’s a pleasure to hear a full-dramatic authentic German tenor having a go at Tamino instead of the more usual mouse-tenor Taminos we’re getting offered today.
His interpretation is magnificent, the singing and enunciation are as good as can be expected. The same goes for the arias by Schubert from Fierrabras and Alfonso und Estrella.
His Florestan offers fine musicianship, controlled singing starting with the soft attack on ‘Gott’ to an always imaginative delivery and a voice well-suited to the dark minor key of this Lebens fruhlingstagen. Overall a noble interpretation.
The Mahler Chamber orchestra plays fine and offers some good instrumental solo work. Abbado is a legendary conductor adapting slow-ish tempos which other listeners may like. And I at least would have liked more orchestral  firework in some places.
Very welcome too is Kaufmann’s Schone Muellerin. Again because I do like and prefer bigger voices in the Lieder genre a tradition which goes back to the years before the second world war (think Jadlowker, Tauber, Anders, Svanholm….). The pianist is of primary importance in the cycle and the most convincing recordings give evidence of a true partnership (think DFD and Gerald Moore). Kaufmann connects with the music and the text and Deutsch supports him ably in his story-telling. It’s not my desert island disc of the cycle but nevertheless  a recording I will return to and I would certainly attend Kaufmann’s singing of the miller in the concert hall if offered the opportunity.
Rudi van den Bulck