EIF review, 24 August 2006
Jonas Green
Recital, Edinburgh, 24 August 2006
Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch
Bank of Scotland Queen's Hall Series
Kaufmann and Deutsch are now Festival regulars, and they just keep getting better and better. The second half of this programme was a generous selection of Strauss songs (somehow they don't seem to class as conventional Lieder) from their new CD. The first half was even more interesting, demonstrating their skills in a very varied repertoire.

Schubert's little-known piece Die Bürgschaft is a mini-opera, setting a lengthy Schiller ballad which narrates a melodramatic tale of comrades' loyalty and victory over tribulations. The music is early Schubert, not memorable in itself but with ample tone-painting of angry rivers, setting suns, weeping friends and the like. These performers made it all exciting, both of them painting well these varied characters and moods. Two of Kaufmann's particular skills were to recur throughout the morning: his command of different voice colours; and his ability to float beautiful long phrases, especially in the high register.

For Bartók's Four Slovakian folksongs - likewise a little-known and early piece - he adopted a different tone, more sustained and inward until the swaggering fourth song. (Confusingly, he sang these in German while the programme gave the text in Hungarian and English.) Bartók embellishes these simple folk-song settings with some fine piano writing which Helmut Deutsch played with great artistry.

Britten's Michelangelo Sonnets - written for Peter Pears - are quite different again: in imitation Italianate style, their mood is generally intense and intimate but with some operatic moments. The vocal tessitura is high throughout. Kaufmann and Deutsch successfully negotiated all of this while finding each song's character exactly, whether tense, restless, rapturous or ceremonial. The beautiful serenade-like Sonnet XXX was especially fine: two slightly chromatic lines spun by voice and piano over simple chords. Kaufmann's easy control of dynamics, especially in diminuendo, was astonishing.

And we still had thirteen Strauss songs to come! For the youthful Schlichte Weisen (five songs), Kaufmann used a more casual style, even risking running out of breath and only occasionally opening out to full voice. These love songs range widely, from the satirical to the enigmatic.

Next, Kaufmann rearranged his programme, and Strauss's own sequence, in order to finish with the Vier Lieder which were Strauss's wedding present to his bride. Before that we heard four selected later songs, of which the highlight for me was Sehnsucht (Longing): an extended improvisatory line which Kaufmann sustained through its climax to a high pianissimo ending.

Finally, the wonderful Vier Lieder of 1894. Kaufmann and Deutsch caught each of these unerringly: the excitement of stealing away from a busy party; then the sombre peace of Ruhe, meine Seele; the magical Morgen with its seemingly impossible sustained vocal line. Then they cleverly ended - and here's why they changed the order - with the ardour of Cäcilie and a storming top B.

  www.jkaufmann.info back top