Musicweb International, January 2008
Göran Forsling
Jonas Kaufmann: Romantic Arias
Rave reviews have garnished Jonas Kaufmann’s career the last few years. Listening to his first recital disc, due for release on 14 January 2008, the day of his first Alfredo at Covent Garden, it is easy to see why. With film-star looks to match he seems predestined for great things. He has the classy Prague Philharmonic backing him, conducted by one of the more sought after Italian opera conductors of the younger generation. The sound is out of Decca’s top drawer, so the prerequisites are the best possible. The repertoire is a baker’s dozen of the most well-known arias, presented in an order without any discernible logic – presumably to be as varied as possible and showcase his versatility. The only aria that may not be familiar to everyone is Invocation à la nature from La Damnation de Faust. The promotional material – I haven’t seen the finished product – speaks a lot of his excellence as a Mozart singer, but this composer “has been left for another day” – a day to look forward to. Let’s start listening without too many preconceptions and see what are his fortes and whether there are any drawbacks.

The old warhorse Che gelida manina from La Bohème reveals an expansive and rather robust voice with a certain vibrancy. It is thrilling and on overdrive he almost brings the house down, but he is definitely no can belto singer: on the contrary what at once strikes the listener is his natural feeling for the musical phrase, the ebb and flow of the music, and his ability to convey the text. The famous high C poses no problems; it is powerful and penetrating but not in the least vulgar. It is followed by a delicious scaling down to a honeyed pianissimo end. An impressive calling card!

The Flower Song is tender but with an under-lying intensity, reminiscent of Jon Vickers – a superb Don José, 35–40 years ago. Kaufmann seems to be that rare thing: a fully fledged spinto tenor with all the qualities of a lyric singer. His phrasing is exemplary and the soft end of the aria is sung to perfection with a slight crescendo on the final note, followed by a decrescendo.

He sings the Martha aria in the original German: soft and nuanced like Tauber but with quite a different sheen and ring to the top notes. In E lucevan le stelle the despair and resignation is well depicted and he sings the aria from Don Carlo with the intensity of Domingo – who actually was one of his early inspirations. More accurately perhaps it is, Giuseppe Giacomini, whom he resembles in his way of sometimes squeezing the tone. It isn’t pinched as it can be with some singers and it isn’t exactly disturbing – just a characteristic identifier.

Max’s aria from Der Freischütz is a testing piece, requiring both lyrical and dramatic qualities. Kaufmann has both in abundance and is truly impressive in the stormy end section. Here he surpasses René Kollo and even outshines Wolfgang Windgassen, who has long been a favourite here. Of Alfredo’s scene – the one that opens act two of La traviata - we get not only the recitative and aria but also the short dialogue with Annina, leading over to the cabaletta, which is sung with élan. His honeyed delivery of the recitative and the youthfully glowing aria draws a fine portrait of the infatuated Alfredo.

It seems that he is especially attuned to the French repertoire. The Flower Song, as mentioned, is so sensitive. Even more so he impresses in Manon with soft, beautiful phrasing, fine legato and impassioned but controlled exposure of the character’s feelings. It is all very alive, very involving. So is the Faust aria – as a matter of fact I can’t remember when I heard it presented with such delicious and inward qualities. And he takes the high C pianissimo!

The Prize Song from Meistersinger is perhaps too restrained. It is after all a show-piece, a public address but there is no lack of bravura  in the final bars.

The French repertoire concludes this highly enjoyable recital. There he sings beautifully in the Berlioz aria. His Werther is sensitive but also thrillingly powerful at the climaxes, reminding us that the first Werther, Ernst van Dyck, was a noted Wagner singer.

There has been a plethora of fine new tenors making their marks during this first decade of the new millennium. Judging from this debut recital Jonas Kaufmann is well equipped to be among the leaders – and stay there.

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