, Wednesday 21 August 2002
Tim Ashley
Edinburgh Festival, August 2002: Die schöne Müllerin
Jonas Kaufmann: Die schöne Müllerin
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Very much the discovery of last year's festival, German tenor Jonas Kaufmann has continued making waves this time round. At the end of his performance of Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin with pianist Helmut Deutsch, the audience was in bits and pandemonium broke out, leaving Kaufmann looking slightly bemused at the sensation he had caused.

Kaufmann already has sex-symbol status, though what is crucially important is that the beauty of his artistry matches his looks. His voice is dark and handsome. He achieves psychological and dramatic insight by working through the music rather than going against it. Lines are never fractured for the sake of textual emphasis; a tremendous palette of vocal colour generates the intensity.

Schubert's song cycle, often romanticised, consequently becomes a tragic monologue of great complexity, a journey from optimism to despair via the tangled irrationalities of desire. Kaufmann's voice rears in elation at the onset of passion, the tone then shifting with unease as doubt sets in. The final realisation of betrayal is done with heart-stopping simplicity.

The difficult closing song, in which the protagonist's voice is replaced by that of the river in which he has drowned himself, is surreal and otherworldly, haunting you long after the final chords have died away.

Deutsch, meanwhile, matches Kaufmann's approach turn for turn, exposing extraordinary layers of meaning in Schubert's piano writing.

The reaction at the end was fully justified. This was an overwhelming experience - the greatest performance of the work I've ever heard.

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