|By Juan Antonio Muñoz H,
Liederabend, Paris, TCE, 20. Februar 2012
Jonas Kaufmann in Paris, SECRET INVITATION AND LIFETIME EXPERIENCE
Paris, Monday, February 20th, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées
The Lied is the most difficult vocal genre, only comparable to Monteverdi’s
music in its laments. The artist is alone by the piano, projecting his voice
into the vastness of the hall. Any defect, any negligence, any lack of
concentration will remain sealed therein.
On February 20th Paris
lived a miraculous moment, with the audience in a state of contemplation.
Those who were there faced the depth of the human condition and were able to
heal some of the wounds that life leaves in the soul. It was due to the
music, certainly, but above all to Jonas Kaufmann and to his pianist, Helmut
Kaufmann had already explored the mystery inhabiting this
music in his albums dedicated to the lieder of Richard Strauss and
Schubert’s “Die schöne Müllerin”. Music which seems to be the acme, the goal
—the Grail— of lyricism. “Love and pain shared my heart”, wrote Schubert in
It is in the romantic spirit, with returning ghosts and
forests in shadow (Caspar David Friedrich’s pictures are exceptional in
showing this), where the principles distinguishing a Lied from any other
song are crystallized: the staging of an extremely refined sensitivity in
which nature plays an active part. Thus, forests of linden trees and
flowers, river beds, dawn, dusk or midnight decorate the environments
described in the spiritual and physical life of the men and women who sing
their suffering or joy.
The Lied also prioritizes a nostalgic outlook
on life, barely sweetened by the hope of finding a place where things may be
different. Rarely has abstract musical art been so close to the wounds which
make up love, desire and death in the human spirit.
—with his voice, his hands, his look, his gestures— renders this into a
reality which can almost be touched. Such is the enormous power of his
expressiveness, such is the beauty of the thousand colors of his mixed
material, such is his sincere, direct and natural commitment in its
unfathomable complexity. One can notice that something is going on inside
his soul and his body and that every sound issues from some personal and old
process, as if he were the channel of an arcane world to which we only gain
access through his art.
Kaufmann’s program in Paris was vast. An
admirable work which explores the Lied when it leaves Schubert’s hands, when
the social fabric of the 19th century had become denser and when nostalgia
and melancholy were not only nurtured by dark sweetness, but also by
In short, the Lied of the time when questions
about death, desire and love peered into the abyss, yearning for the lost
light. Songs of the twilight of Romanticism, songs of the “ample and silent
peace / so deep at sunset” (“Im Abendrot”, by Richard Strauss), the lines of
that day “full of rain and storm” and those tombs with the words “We were”
(“Auf dem Kirchhofe”, by Brahms).
Not that these works were in the
repertoire, but Jonas Kaufmann seems to have assumed their essence to give
volume to his recital, a journey full of mysteries, overlooking the
He started with six lieder by Franz Liszt, in his
encounters with Heine and Goethe, with further poems by Emil Kuh and
Nikolaus Lenau. Liszt composed nearly 80 melodies and there are few audio
documents of his Lieder notebooks, a thorny vocal and expressive territory
(Sylvia Sass and Andras Schiff made a great contribution in their record
released by Decca in 1981). Reactive, dark, dramatic and passionate,
occasionally violent, his pen seeks a sometimes harsh voice, willing to
constant modulation and to express hidden meanings.
Kaufmann hit the
mark in everything and brought the audience to their knees with his
pianissimos, his line, his color range, his woeful pitch and musical
accuracy in pages whose characteristic is tonal liberty and harmonic
progression. In “Im Rhein, im schönen Strome” (“In the Rhine, in the
beautiful torrent”), the tenor was moving in phrases such as “in the desert
of my life” (“In meines Lebens Wildnis....”) and was able to transmit the
state of someone gazing at the Cologne Cathedral, while in “Ihr Glocken von
Marling” (“The bells of Marling ”), with its melancholy insistence, the
artist draws an impressionistic picture about the intuition of something
that has been lost. He opened fire with “Vergiftet sind meine Lieder”
(“Poisoned are my songs”), eerie invocation to the poems poisoned by spite.
“Es war ein König in Thule”, with text of “Faust”, was a great dramatic
scene, as well as “Die drei Zigeuner”, which had the tone of almost an
anecdote being told among friends commenting the hardships of this world.
On hearing these works one is able to notice the “Tristram” dwelling
in Kaufmann, maybe because Liszt’s lieders have an unmistakable scent of
The journey continued with Gustav Mahler, that is to say,
metaphysical angst, intellectual critique, questions with an elusive answer.
They were the five lieder with texts by Friedrich Rückert (“Rückert
Lieder”), which lead one into a Vienna of utmost refinement. A Vienna which
has already met Gustav Klimt, and therefore the sound is of a subtle
preciosity and concentrated emotion. A real test of the heart in the voice
—or voices— of Kaufmann.
With “(...) I breathe in silence / in the
perfume of the linden tree / the sweet perfume of love” (phrase of “Ich
atmet’einen linden Duft”) the hall was left in suspense.
In “You love
for beauty, therefore you do not love me” (of “Liebst du um Schönheit”) he
comments on the disbelief —and the hope— of sometime being loved only “for
“Your curiosity is treachery” (of “Blicke mir nicht in die
Lieder”) boils in obsessive demands which start with the myth of Psyche and
Eros, and reach “Lohengrin”.
“(...) One would think I was dead! /
And, in truth, I little care” (of “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen”) is
the song of a loner who lives in dreams in his heaven, his song and his
And “I looked at the sky full of stars and none of them smiled
at me” (of “Um Mitternacht”) is the highest expression of grief and delivery
(only Christa Ludwig sang this once with the same intensity of Jonas
It is amazing that the best singer in the French language
today should be a German. Paris fully appreciated it. Kaufmann is already
opera history with his “Werther” (Massenet), Des Grieux (“Manon”), “Faust”
(Gounod) and Don José (“Carmen”, Bizet), and he will surely be a great Eneas
in “The Trojans” (Berlioz) which London is preparing for its Olympic year.
Some years ago he was scheduled to sing “Romeo and Juliet” (Gounod) and he
would have been the best Montague lover (perhaps he still might be).
His arrival to Henri Duparc’s melodies forebode extensions to Fauré, but
also to opera titles of which he may not even have thought about. Being a
tenor with a baritone color, he could well sing —let’s dream!— “Pelléas et
Mélisande” (Debussy) and “Hamlet” (Thomas), both of them characters of which
he would render great interpretative creations.
‘L’invitation a la valse’ was written, I would like a musician to compose
‘L’invitation au voyage’ to offer it to the beloved woman, to the chosen
sister”. This was written by the poet Charles Baudelaire, inspirer of many
melodies which travel through paths of harmful flowers, sensing water games,
the harmony of the evening and past life, in the non-programmatic visions of
Duparc, Fauré, De Séverac, Saguet, Chabrier and Debussy.
invoked Duparc on this occasion, starting and closing his five chosen songs
with poems of Baudelaire: “L’invitation au voyage” and “La vie antérieure”.
Both of them allow an ample knowledge of the possible encounter between the
notes and the poems of the poet of “Les fleurs du mal”, which have a musical
life of their own. The result is a host of songs that seem to have in
twilight the spirit itself of the melody, as evanescent music issues from
their poetry, accentuating colors, the way of declining the phrases and the
meaning of the words behind the scenes.
The “luxury, calm and
voluptuousness” (“L’invitation au voyage”) took hold of Kaufmann, who from
that emotional state was led to the indeclinable invitation to the dream and
kiss of “Phidylé”, unsettling the audience with the bite of love of “Le
manoir de Rosamonde” and silencing it with the terminal calm of “Chanson
triste”. The tenor found another peak in his version of “La vie antérieure”,
sung with holy concentration —the gods (his, ours) were there— the
description of paradise, which consists in feeding a “painful secret” which
is never revealed. He himself was moved at the end of this masterful
Richard Strauss invites us to revisit the open and
attractive mausoleum in which Wagner left his lovers (“Mild und leise”). The
melody —essential element in Straussian art— triumphs because it is in the
genetic origin of the composer, and refers him to a song of noble and
refined wood. An origin related to his German birth and home. Strauss
composed over 200 Lieder which do nothing but confirm his complicity of
spirit with this genre of concise numbers, so powerfully expressive. There
is no better example of this than the “Vier letzte Lieder” and how marvelous
it would be —if sex transmutation existed— if Kaufmann were able to sing
them one day.
But there were many Strauss lieder for him, six of
which were included in the program, and many others in the seven encores!
(there were eight in Berlin).
In the game of exchange between the
voice and the listener, seduction is an acceptable strategy. The listener
longs to be reached by the voice which takes him to unexpected heights or
depths. He recognizes himself in that voice and sound waves run through his
body, reincarnated in blood flow and fluid. That is why Tristram and Isolde
finally love each other, in the one who listens and the one who sings. Thus,
climax is reached beyond the score, outside time and space.
well-constructed Liederabend achieves precisely this. And the audience
—naive and seduced— is willing to die, simply because it rediscovers that it
is able to love, and that it loves.
And that is due to the voice, in
this case, that of Jonas Kaufmann.
After these there were other
pieces such as “Schlechtes Wetter”, “Schön sind, doch kalt die
Himmelssterne”, “Befreit” and “Heimliche Aufforderung” (“secret invitation”
which nobody could ever refuse... “Oh come, wonderful, ardently desired
night”). The voice is silent for a moment and the piano —with the
extraordinary maestro Helmut Deutsch— assumes the leading role in the
journey: “Morgen!” is Strauss’s most endearing Lied and Jonas Kaufmann
peacefully tells us that one day we, the blessed, will meet “in the bosom of
this land breathing with sunshine”, and that “over us will fall the mute
silence of happiness”.
Finally, in “Cécile”, Kaufmann makes it very
clear what “trembling in lonely nights (...) with no one to comfort you”
A lifetime experience to be treasured in our hearts.