The Star Ledger, February 15, 2013
Ronni Reich
Wagner: Jonas Kaufmann
Jonas Kaufmann’s new CD of Wagner arias and scenes — out this week, just as he begins a run at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of "Parsifal" — suggests he could be thrown into nearly any of the composer’s tenor roles and triumph. He can slice through a voluminous orchestra in percussive, anguished or exultant phrases yet eloquently caress a lyrical phrase with equal expertise.

Those who heard him sing delicate Schubert songs at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton recently may be shocked at the heft he brings from the outset of Siegmund’s Sword Monologue from "Die Walküre," with baritonal colorings in the opening declaration giving way to a prolonged, soaring "Wälse" cry. The singing shifts seamlessly from heroic to romantic as he sings of Sieglinde’s gaze; he leans into gushing phrases with a sway, giving the impression of one drunk with pleasure.

Donald Runnicles leads the orchestra in an impassioned and detailed performance, especially notable for its powerful and polished brass section.

In Siegfried’s "Daß der mein Vater nicht ist," Kaufmann’s voice penetrates over the gently undulating orchestra. Then he allows his tone to grow pale and vulnerable as he thinks about his mother’s death. His innocent whisper gives way strikingly to his full voice, perfectly in line with a character who seems childlike and unaware of his own strength. Runnicles keeps a brisk pace through perky, impeccably executed birdsong.

"Am stillen Herd" from "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" features beautifully long, sculpted lines from Kaufmann. The ease and evenness of his sumptuous sound from its dark low range to its gleaming top earn the "Mastersinger" title.

At the beginning of "In fernem Land" from "Lohengrin," Kaufmann showcases exquisite piano singing, floating his voice without losing the core of the sound. His tone beams resplendently at the mention of the grail. He and the orchestra create a suspenseful, authoritative performance, capturing the reverence with which the title character regards his office. Kaufmann includes a second, rarely recorded verse that the composer cut before the premiere.

The collaboration is also fruitful through selections from "Rienzi" and "Tannhaüser."
Perhaps most telling about Kaufmann as an artist, however, is his decision to sing the Wesendonck-Lieder, which Wagner wrote for female voice. As asserted in a program note, the text is fully convincing from the male perspective, at least with Kaufmann singing Felix Mottl’s orchestral arrangements.

"Der Engel" features a wistful tone augmented by a satiny violin solo. His voice pours like thick honey, slow and luxurious, throughout the contemplative "Im Treibhaus."
Kaufmann matches the explosive orchestral introduction to "Schmerzen." The musicians give a transfixing rendition as waves of sound bring angst-ridden beginnings to a joyous conclusion.

The recording doesn’t include "Parsifal," but is still a promising indicator of what Kaufmann may do onstage over the next three weeks.

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