Calgary Herald, January 20, 2013
By Arthur Kaptainis
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin, Montreal, 20. Januar 2013
Tenor does soft, simple Schubert
The growing international fame of Jonas Kaufmann meant that 2,000 people packed in to listen to 65 minutes of Schubert

MONTREAL — Had you predicted a few years ago a crowd of almost 2,000 for 65 minutes of Schubert lieder I would have assumed the performance featured the composer at the piano. But this would have been before the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann evolved from a central-European leading man into an international star, and before the Maison symphonique provided an acoustically viable setting for singing on an intimate scale.

The song cycle on offer Sunday was Die Schöne Müllerin, an irresistibly tuneful, but frequently soft-spoken account of a young man’s futile pursuit of the Fair Maid of the Mill (to choose one of the more idiomatic translations). Much of the narrative unfolds in the mind of the protagonist and it is not always easy to separate fantasy from reality or even joy from sorrow.

Many suppose such delicate expression to be antithetical to operatic heave-ho, but Kaufmann seemed entirely in tune with the idiom. He projected clearly without pushing and deployed a wide range of colours and rhythmic stresses to convey the richness of the music and the text.

Of course, he was equal to toggling an assertive and self-questioning tone in Am Feierabend and bringing a heroic ring to Mein. Even more impressive were the subtle shifts that animated quiet numbers like Morgengrüss and Die liebe Farbe. The apparently free-form Trockne Blumen was underpinned by a steady, intuitive pulse.

The question was not whether you liked Kaufmann’s voice, but whether you appreciated his many voices.

One of these had a nasal quality and might not have been agreeable in a full-blast ballad.

But for Schubert the palette (particularly after a few minutes of warming up) was wonderful.

Through most of the cycle Kaufmann held his hands together in supplication. No shaking fists for him. The huge ovation made clear that the audience found nothing wanting in his simple, upright stage manner. Much of that applause was for the pianist, Helmut Deutsch, a splendidly lucid accompanist, no less apt than his collaborator to adjust colour in strophic songs for the sake of variety.

The crowd (combining followers of the OSM and Pro Musica, co-sponsors of the recital) was not the quietest I have heard, but most of the coughing and fidgeting was between songs. There was prolonged applause after the decisive final chord of Mein, which gave Kaufmann an opportunity to take a sip of water.

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