Financial Times, 6 Feb 2017
by: Richard Fairman
Liederabend, London, Barbican, 4. Februar 2017
Jonas Kaufmann is back — in healthy voice
The German tenor’s recital at London’s Barbican came after a long enforced silence

The gods are smiling on the Barbican in 2017. First, the proposal for a new concert hall was rescued when the Corporation of London found the cash to press ahead with the business plan. Now, Jonas Kaufmann has recovered from his long, enforced silence, caused by a burst blood vessel on his vocal cords, just in time for his Barbican residency.

The “Kaufmann Residency” is one of the highlights of the Barbican season. Although lasting only 10 days, it includes this opening recital, a Wagner concert, a public discussion and a Strauss concert that will showcase the tenor in an unlikely raid on soprano territory with a daring performance of the Four Last Songs.

So far, so good. To start his solo recital, Kaufmann set the audience at ease by joking about his need for a music-stand after his long break. He sports an appealing personality on the recital platform and also sounded in healthy voice throughout the evening with the single caveat that he overuses his soft, floating head voice. What should be a special effect starts to come across more like a mannerism.

Like his compatriot Christian Gerhaher, Kaufmann sings German Lieder with a straightforward, almost spoken clarity to the words, married to a vocal line always shaped with care. In Schumann’s Kerner-Lieder this resulted in a performance at the opposite pole to Alice Coote’s intense outpouring at Wigmore Hall the previous week. Kaufmann was restrained, poetic and beautifully accompanied by Helmut Deutsch, who judged perfectly how much volume to use in support of a singer who has a heroic tenor voice to unleash when he wants to.

After the interval came a selection of Duparc mélodies, their hothouse, early French impressionism painted in warm, husky, baritonal colours. Most interesting for a British audience was Kaufmann’s first performance in this country of Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. This was a long way from English performances of the cycle, partly because Kaufmann’s voice is no cool, reedy English tenor, partly thanks to the relaxed, Mediterranean glow he cast over the Italian poems. Britten’s songs blossomed for him, as though let out for once into the sun. On to Wagner next.

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