Financial Times, 1 November 2010
By Richard Fairman
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, London, Wigmore Hall, 31 October 2010
Jonas Kaufmann, Wigmore Hall, London

Trick or treat? Given the tendency of opera singers to deliver some pretty gruesome surprises when they venture into the recital hall for an occasional evening of song, it might have seemed all too prescient a choice for Jonas Kaufmann to pick Halloween for his debut (Anmerkung: Jonas Debüt in der Wigmore Hall war in 2003) at London’s Wigmore Hall to sing some Schubert.

Admittedly, Kaufmann is no ordinary opera singer. Having been virtually unknown on the international circuit five years ago, he has risen to the top very fast and now ranks as the leading German romantic tenor of his generation, if not of the past half century. As a Wagnerian, he has the hopes of the entire opera world riding on his vocal chords.

Happily, they seemed in good fettle at the Wigmore on Sunday, though Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin is not the most comfortable outing for them. Compared with the other tenor voices that sing Schubert here, Kaufmann’s burnished sound is not only much bigger, it is also extraordinarily deep and dark. A soft head voice comes into play when he needs to lighten the tone, but in this performance it was overworked. The effect was akin to an artist trying to paint in watercolour with the broadest of brushes.

For all that, Kaufmann’s singing was always alive. Provided with a firm foundation in Helmut Deutsch’s strong accompaniments, he sang the words as though he felt every line keenly – the miller’s wistful questions to the brook were so immediate that one half wanted to answer – and registered each downward step in the tragic descent towards suicide with an opera singer’s eye for character.

Perhaps that is why the emotional journey seemed to take on heroic proportions. From the high point of “Dein ist mein Herz”, ringing out with Heldentenor pride, to the peace of the last song in the waters of the brook, wafted on a head tone so soft it was barely audible and with Deutsch’s accompaniments lapping gently underneath, everything worked on a big scale – of volume, of tone colour, of feeling. On disc, compared with specialist Lieder singers, this performance would lack the proper fineness of touch, but hearing Kaufmann’s voice in the Wigmore is – well, a treat, on Halloween or any other night.


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