New York Classical Review, February 21, 2014
|By George Grella
Recital: Carnegie Hall, 20. Februar 2014
Kaufmann’s Carnegie recital displays the true artistry beneath the celebrity
A Jonas Kaufmann recital at Carnegie Hall is a great event, regardless of
the actual quality of the music making. Kaufmann, currently starring in the
title role of Werther at the Metropolitan Opera House, is burning brighter
than any other star on the opera scene. He was greeted rapturously by a full
house Thursday night, and by the second of his six encores, the bulk of the
audience was in ecstasy.
One has the impression that the response
would have been the same had Kaufmann sat on a stool, reading the newspaper
aloud. Considering the amount of noisy inattention—mobile phones ringing,
people snoring, chattering, even whistling countermelodies during some of
the encores—the question becomes, what are they actually fans of? Kaufmann’s
singing or his volcanic fame?
Kaufmann surely deserves the attention,
for he is a great singer. His tenor voice has the weight and color of a
baritone, yet it is also lithe, and, once fully warmed up, projects easily
into a large hall.
His warmup took place on stage, with the opening
set of five selections from Robert Schumann’s twelve Zwölf Gedichte, Op. 35.
Kaufmann and accompanist Helmut Deutsch had full command of all the notes,
but the music seemed under-prepared, musicality and expression dutiful
rather than discerning. Phrases were four-square, dynamics stiff, the
gestures overdone. The final song, “Stille Tränen,” was loud and stentorian,
wrong for Schumann, as was Deutsch’s heavy pedal.
48, which followed, was entirely different. As with his other songs,
Schumann wrote the cycle with a parlor-sized audience in mind. He could not
possibly have imagined that this conversation about love between intimates
would be sung in front of almost 3,000 people.
The challenge is to
seem to whisper while reaching the back row of the balcony, one that
Kaufmann met with ease. He clearly has insight into the music, and his
expression and technique were acutely focused. His singing was far quieter,
even in the forte passages of “Aus alten Märchen,” and the relative hush
meant the listener had to reach out a bit to the music, ensuring an intimate
connection. Kaufmann sang through the notes and phrases with pure
simplicity, letting the music speak through him. Deutsch found his footing
as well, playing more quietly, more nimbly, and leaving more open space for
Kaufmann’s vocal strength masks the greatest quality
of his voice, which comes through when he sings pianissimo, displaying his
instrument’s clarity and beauty. After intermission, he sang Wagner’s
Wesendonck Lieder, Op. 91, with the same vocal beauty and expressive
simplicity. These songs are perhaps Wagner’s most personal music, written to
cement an intense emotional affair between himself and the wife of one of
his patrons (Mathilde Wesendonck, who wrote the middling, sentimental text).
The music is surprisingly simple, and that makes it some of Wagner’s
most affecting. Kaufmann’s ability to set his personality aside enough to
let the music sing through him matched the beauty of the songs. It is an
important quality and not easy for such a dominant performer, but it marks
Kaufmann not just as a great singer but as a great artist.
closing Tre sonetti di Petrarca from Liszt tossed more red meat to the fans,
especially with the hammy, extroverted “Benedetto sia’l giorno.” Although
Kaufmann has proven himself as a terrific Verdi singer, his Italian diction
is not especially fluid, and at times sounds oddly Sicilian. That was
subsumed in his lovely singing of “Pace no trovo” and “I’ vidi in terra,”
which was again quiet, grippingly lovely and intimate.
In a sense,
the bulk of the concert happened after the main event: six encores,
including four songs from Strauss, Schumann’s “Mondnacht” from Liederkreis
and the last, “Gern hab ich die Frau’n geküβt” from Lehár’s Paganini. As
encores, these were natural relaxed, with again a striking simplicity. The
Strauss songs, “Breit über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar,” “Heimliche
Aufforderung,” “Freundliche Vision,” and “Cäcilie,” were particularly
moving, with the luminous clarity and phrasing of the third perhaps the
finest musical moment of the evening.
Challenging that pinnacle were
the loveliness of “Mondnacht” and the easy, naïve charm of Kaufmann dipping
into English in the final moments to sing “girls were made to love and
kiss.” Unsurprisingly, that elicited a general swoon.