The Guardian, Tuesday 8 April 2014
George Hall
Schubert: Winterreise, London, Royal Opera House, 6. April 2014
Jonas Kaufmann review – 'Subtlety of gesture and a tender lyricism'
The German tenor, together with his perfectly matched accompanist, Helmut Deutsch, conjured an intimate world in their rendition of Schubert's Winterreise song-cycle
Having recently released a recording of the piece, Jonas Kaufmann is currently touring Schubert's great song-cycle Winterreise, partnered by pianist and regular recital partner Helmut Deutsch. The venues are large, including La Scala in Milan and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris; in London, he sang the 80-minute sequence of 24 songs on the vast Covent Garden stage.

Yet there was nothing excessive or scaled-up about the performance itself, either on the part of Kaufmann or the pianist with whom he is perfectly matched; instead, they drew you into an intimate world in which subtlety of gesture and a tender, interiorised lyricism informed their measured and finely attuned approach.

In physical terms, too, Kaufmann was economical and controlled, barely moving his body as he stood in the wing of the piano, using his hands carefully but expressively. In the first few songs, the top of his voice felt slightly tentative, but it soon opened up and thereafter remained free and expressive. His musicianship was, as always, impeccable.

It was notable the way both artists maintained the cycle's continuity, moving swiftly from one item to the next so the sense of the steady disintegration of the protagonist over the course of a secular via dolorosa never faltered. It proved a disturbing experience, as Winterreise always does in a fine performance.

Yet there was a sense of containment, too. Neither Kaufmann nor Deutsch were tempted to overemphasise, the pianist's translucent textures providing a clear surface through which the tenor could thread his honed, delicately suggestive vocalism. At 44, Kaufmann is a comparatively young singer, and his Winterreise is already an appreciable achievement; but it holds out the promise of an even greater interpretation still to come.

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