Music OMH, 29 Apr 2020
by Melanie Eskenazi
Schumann: Dichterliebe, Bayerische Staatsoper, 27. April 2020 (online)
Melanie Eskenazi attends a live performance without leaving her sofa
The evening’s main work was Schumann’s Dichterliebe, with Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch. Of all the evening’s performers, Kaufmann seemed the most perturbed by the empty auditorium – Helmut of course could play through a volcanic eruption and barely turn a hair, but Jonas appeared somewhat on edge, perhaps unnerved not only by the lack of an audience but by the absence of a barber to have given his wayward locks a trim. Nevertheless, he gave a superb performance of this much-loved work.

A great deal of water has flown under the bridge since I wrote of him in 2003 that he was “…at his best in forte, and at his least effective when tenderness and nuance are required.” That could never be said of him in 2020; although he rises to the grand moments with power to spare, he is now the master of both nuance and tenderness. He was superbly partnered as always by Helmut Deutsch, whose playing was masterly in its phrasing and sense of drama, the poignant nachspiel played with such elegance and warmth that it lingered long after the concert had finished.

Kaufmann presents a much darker, more melancholy poet nowadays, the ferocious songs such as ‘Ich grolle nicht’ so despairing that the words seem to be wrenched from deep inside. Words such as ‘zerissen’ carry much weight, as do simple phrases such as ‘du wärst mir noch gut’ and the cycle as a whole is communicated with the aching, tremulous passion of the true Schumann interpreter. The penultimate song, ‘Aus alten Märchen’ was an object lesson in how to vary the facets of the feelings being presented, with the lines ‘Ach, könnt ich dorthin kommen / Und dort mein Herz er’freun’ (Could I but reach that land, and make my heart glad) phrased with heartfelt emotion. By the end of the cycle, we felt as though we really had been on a journey, from the languid desire of the opening lines to the grim resignation of the final stanza.

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