Sunday Times, 25.08.02
Hugh Canning
Music Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde (chamber version), Edinburgh, 14 August 2002
Das Lied von der Erde
After a blazing Maria Stuarda from Barbara Frittoli and a sublime Mahler recital, Hugh Canning leaves Edinburgh with his ears ringing
….my extended weekend in the Scottish capital featured the young German tenor Jonas Kaufmann,, whose recital last year made such a deep impression. This year, as well as the tenor solo in Liszt's Faust Symphony at a "primetime" Usher Hall concert, he sang the tenor part in Schoenberg's arrangement of Mahler's The Song of the Earth for chamber ensemble, and gave a performance of Schubert's song cycle Die schone Mullerin. At only 33, Kaufmann already looks well on the way to becoming the outstanding lyric German tenor of his generation. The voice is dark and grainy with a bright ringing top register that he exploits unstintingly in Mahler's cruelly high-written tenor songs - perhaps even too much so. With the gorgeous young Alice Coote - sounding ever more Janet Baker-like in the moving mezzo songs - and a superb group of instrumentalists, the Edinburgh Festival Ensemble, under the vital direction of Garry Walker, Kaufmann brought something of the vocal allure and textual clarity of the lamented Fritz Wunderlich on the famous Klemperer recording to music that so often nowadays sounds ungainly and effortful in the throats of would-be Wagnerian heldentenors. Kaufmann and Coote reminded us forcefully that much of Mahler's music is about youth and beauty as well as resignation and death. Kaufmann's Schubert was more remarkable still. He takes more risks than any other tenor I have heard in this music, and they don't always pay off in purely vocal terms, but the communicative dividends are immense. Although texts were only sporadically provided - demand for seats far outstripped the management's expectations - anyone with reasonable German could have followed every word of Wilhelm Muller's poems, so crisp and sentient was Kaufmann's diction. And his grasp of the psychology of the lovelorn protagonist of Schubert's first great song cycle was complete. This was Schubert lieder-singing.

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