Richard Wigmore
Richard Wigmore reviews Jonas Kaufmann's collection of Romantic Arias
Jonas Kaufmann: Romantic Arias: Classical CD of the week
Jonas Kaufmann's svelte, un-tenorish physique and swarthy good looks make him a publicist's dream, as Decca's booklet, larded with studied-casual fashion shots, duly confirms. With the Latin appearance goes a voice to match. No German tenor since Fritz Wunderlich has such a succulent Italianate tone, without a trace of Teutonic grittiness or nasality.

Yet Kaufmann is no Wunderlich sound-alike. While his free-ringing high notes have a comparable visceral excitement, his timbre is a notch duskier and more baritonal, with more heft in the middle and lower registers. He is also a scrupulous and sensitive musician, building each of these arias with the care of a Lieder singer. You'll be lucky to hear Max's aria from Der Freischütz sung with such subtlety and involvement, from the rapt tenderness of the opening to a climax of overwhelming despairing intensity.

In Beckmesserish mode you might say that Kaufmann makes the frivolous Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto too similar to his Don Carlos and Alfredo ( La traviata ). His voice does not smile easily, though criticism is all but silenced by the grace and ardour of his phrasing, and those thrilling, unforced top notes. Kaufmann's darkly impassioned "E lucevan le stelle" ( Tosca ) whets the appetite for his Cavaradossi in the theatre, while the Flower Song from Carmen, ending with a honeyed high B flat, revives memories of his triumphant Covent Garden debut.

The one relative rarity here is a gently sentimental aria from Flotow's Martha, delivered with due elegance. Best of all is the Prize Song (Die Meistersinger), sung as a true love song, with a kind of inner intoxication and a variety of colour that I have never heard surpassed.

Marco Armiliato's accompaniments are solid rather than inspiring. But they hardly detract from a feast of glorious tenor singing.



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