The Sunday Times, 7 November 2010
Hugh Canning
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, London, Wigmore Hall, 31 October 2010
Jonas Kaufmann, Wigmore Hall, London

At Wigmore Hall last Sunday, there was a long — and alas hopeless — queue for returns for Jonas Kaufmann’s long-overdue first London performance of Schubert’s cycle Die schöne Müllerin. The German tenor, in town rehearsing for Covent Garden’s imminent Adriana Lecouvreur opposite Mme Gheorghiu (who had managed to get a ticket for her favourite tenor’s recital), sang these songs unforgettably in a late-night concert at the Edinburgh Festival a decade ago. His recent Decca recording with, as here, his regular pianist Helmut Deutsch had raised expectations to perhaps impossible-to-achieve heights. Kaufmann’s virile lyric tenor has darkened considerably in those 10 years as he has moved from youthful Mozart roles to the heroic Verdi, Puccini and Wagner parts. His lovelorn Miller has matured thoughtfully, although perhaps to the point of self-regarding mannerism.  

Kaufmann now sees the cycle as an expressionist psychodrama, as the Miller’s disillusionment with the fickle maid of the mill turns to jealous rage against her new beloved — the Huntsman — resignation and suicide, as he sinks between the soothing waters of the village stream. This is a performance of emotional extremes, most powerful in his sardonic description of his rival and devastating in the heartbroken, numbed self-pity of the last three songs, but Kaufmann has clearly paid a price, technically, for his heroic operatic exploits. His half-voiced musings betray some dodgy intonation, and the contrast with his baritonal tenor at full throttle can be disconcerting.  

One wouldn’t want to hear Die schöne Müllerin done like this every day, and it must have been a change for Wigmore regulars from the hall’s “benchmark” Schubertian, Ian Bostridge. However, it was certainly memorable for Kaufmann’s immaculate diction and willingness to take us to places where Schubert’s Miller rarely leads us. A dangerous but undeniably exhilarating journey. The concert will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Wednesday.


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