Bay Area Reporter, 07/20/2017
by Tim Pfaff
Earthly concerns

Kaufmann's largely vilified new recording of "Das Lied" (Sony), in which he sings all six songs, really is for die-hard fans only. There is vagueness in the "mezzo" songs that his baritonal voice-range extension does not compensate, and the "tenor" songs lack the ping they had for Abbado. The scheduled conductor was Daniel Harding, and Kaufmann might have been wise to postpone when he withdrew. But contracts can be unyielding, and the tenor was coming off months of cancellations – of roles, not just performances – that occasioned some cognoscenti cracking wise about his farewell symphony. I thought the cancellations exactly the right decisions in terms of vocal husbandry, but then I wasn't left holding ticket stubs.

But the far bigger problem is Jonathan Nott's conducting of the Vienna Philharmonic (of which it has been said that, if they don't like the conductor, they play it their way, to which I say, Ha!), which is all over the place and nowhere at the same time. Were more evidence needed, Nott – whose Mahler symphony cycle I have often admired – hands in the same blank, errant performance with his Bamberger Symphony (Tudor), in which tenor Roberto Sacca and baritone Stephen Gadd come to ends far more grim than Kaufmann's. As for Kaufmann's singing all six songs, we resort to the authoritative words of 45: "We'll never know."

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