The Times, October 19 2015
Geoff Brown
Puccini-Konzerte: London, Royal Festival Hall, 17.10.2015
Jonas Kaufmann at Festival Hall
You know the sushi restaurant experience, with morsels passing on a conveyor belt and the empty stomach that lingers no matter how many plates you lift off? Frustratingly, here it was in concert form. Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album, Nessun Dorma, features 16 juicy vocal flights placed back to back, but this Raymond Gubbay spin-off with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the conductor Jochen Rieder kept dotting the world’s star tenor between too many instrumental interludes.

Orchestra 5, Kaufman 4: that was the score at the end of the first half, and the hunger pangs were only increased by the recondite nature of the earliest material in a programme arranged chronologically. Puccini’s fingerprints might be plastered over operas such as Le Villi and Edgar, yet it took more than an hour to reach Tosca and arias popular enough to raise an audience cheer. Compensating pleasures included Puccini’s lambent orchestrations, the elegant poise of the LPO’s woodwinds and heartfelt cries from the principal cellist, Pei-Jee Ng.

Yet these weren’t quite what we came for. We needed that voice, so flexible, focused and multicoloured. Occasionally bolstered by throat-soothing lozenges, Kaufmann didn’t seriously disappoint. He immediately revealed his dramatic and lyrical probity in the shifting moods of Ecco la casa from Le Villi, though the evening’s full glories came much later with his hushed pirouettes during E lucevan le stelle, the controlled dynamic pacing of his Nessun dorma (no empty stadium rattler here) and the sweet caress of his final encore, Licinio Refice’s prayer-song Ombra di nube.
I’d also hand the orchestra a bouquet for the melancholy beauty of its Suor Angelica intermezzo — the final notes poignantly dangling like threads from a forlorn spider’s web. If only this concert’s conveyor belt had moved faster and contained more plates of Kaufmann.

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