The Telegraph, 25 August 2006
Rupert Christiansen
Recital, Edinburgh, 24 August 2006
Full-blooded ardour wins ovation
Rupert Christiansen reviews Jonas Kaufmann at Queen's Hall, Edinburgh
No element of the Edinburgh International Festival gives more consistent pleasure than the daily 11am recitals in the Queen's Hall. The time is right, the acoustics are friendly and the audience informed and enthusiastic - all giving rise to an atmosphere in which musicians can comfortably perform to their best.

As did the Bavarian tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Blessed with the noble features and black locks of a Pre-Raphaelite Jesus, he has recently become a big favourite in Edinburgh and he is sticking around to sing Walther in the concert performance of Die Meistersinger, which will bring Sir Brian McMaster's directorship to a close next week.

This nicely plotted programme allowed him to display his baritonal tenor to advantage. He doesn't have the post-choirboy sweetness of tone that characterised his German predecessors Fritz Wunderlich and Peter Schreier, but he can match their musicality and elegance, as well as providing the extra decibels that they couldn't manage.

Sometimes, one wishes he could add a few more colours to his palette, but he phrases warmly and thinks hard about words. Most importantly, he sings with a passionate commitment that communicates emotion with
vivid immediacy.

A Schubert rarity, Die Burgschaft ("The Bond"), brought all these virtues into play. It is a short solo cantata to a text by Schiller, alternating recitative and arioso.

The music is hectoring and heroic, with a "fate" motif underpinning its rather rambling structure. But Kaufmann brought the tale of two friends united against tyranny to blazing dramatic life.

Four Slovakian folk songs by Bartók, sung in German, were less successful. Here, Kaufmann sold the simple modal melodies too hard, inflecting the doggerel texts with excessive artistry, and I found my attention gravitating towards the piano part, which was impeccably played by the accompanist, Helmut Deutsch.

There were no such complaints about the marvellously operatic performance of Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, which followed. Perhaps they lie too high for Kaufmann's low-focused range, but he sang them with such full-blooded ardour that one barely noticed the occasional technical blip.

The concert's second half was devoted to Richard Strauss. Kaufmann's new CD of this repertory has won high praise and one could hear why. This is his home ground and, after a lovely relaxed account of the Schlichte Weisen ("Simple Ditties"), he went on to rattle the rafters with those Romantic warhorses "Heimliche Aufforderung" and "Cacilie", provoking a richly deserved ovation for himself and his unfailingly sensitive accompanist.

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