Varsity, 25th September 2013
by Declan Kennedy
Declan Kennedy finds this album to be both technically impressive and widely appealing
The Verdi Album, Jonas Kaufmann
After listening to his latest CD, it may be difficult to understand why Jonas Kaufmann lost out to trumpeter Alison Balsom in the running for Gramophone’s Artist of the Year. With anniversary recordings commandeering music-making of all kinds in 2013, not least releases of Britten and Wagner, it’s hardly surprising that Sony have jumped on the bandwagon with Kaufmann to celebrate the bicentenary of Verdi’s birth. We should be anything but cynical, however, as his selections from Il Trovatore, Simon Boccanegra and Otello among others showcase Kaufmann’s undoubted mastery of the Verdi repertoire.

The album has fingerprints of Classic FM all over it: from the grandiose title and headshot album cover to the fact that there’s nothing on here exceeding the unimaginable length of ten minutes. My expectations were lowered still further when Kaufmann opened affairs with ‘La donna é mobile’ from Rigoletto. I was pleasantly surprised, then, as I quickly realised that Sony’s best-seller orientated marketing shouldn’t distract from the fact that this is an album for both the connoisseur and those who simply want to listen to a world-class tenor singing world-class arias.

Kaufmann seems to be in his comfort zone singing the music of a composer he describes as “musically synonymous with Italy”. Throughout the album Kaufmann demonstrates a vocal flexibility that more than justifies his reputation as one of the world’s leading tenors. The German’s technical capability is one of the highlights of the album as every nuance thrown at him by Verdi’s score is flawlessly executed – not least the ending of ‘Se quell guerrier io fossi! … Celeste Aida’ from Act I of Aida, as Kaufmann sings a top B-flat at a tender piano before a diminuendo which he somehow manages to sustain for much of the orchestral coda. While this may be the sweetest moment of the album, the more indulgent of us will just as much enjoy Kaufmann’s top C at the end of ‘Di quella pira’ from Il Trovatore, which he holds for a length which would give sufficient time for the audience of any opera house in the world to rise to their feet.

The Orchestra dell’Opera di Parma is second-rate at best and issues with ensemble appear all too often. The string sound is dull, limp and unsettled and Kaufmann is left to rescue the situation by ensuring he is the centre of attention at all times. That said, an honourable mention must go to the clarinet featured in ‘La vita è inferno all’infelice … O tu, che in seno agli angeli’ from La Forza del Destino; its lyrical playing compliments Kaufmann beautifully.

Any danger of this being merely an album of Verdi show-stoppers for easy listening is completely dispelled by the time we reach the last two tracks. The album is brought to a close with its best bit: two excerpts from Otello. Kaufmann leaves us with an intimation of what is to come; he has made little effort to hide his desire to sing Otello and while it may be a few years before it happens, it sounds as if it will not be a disappointment.

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