Financial Times, January 5, 2015
Richard Fairman
Liederabend, Wigmore Hall, London, 4. Januar 2015
Jonas Kaufmann, Wigmore Hall, London — review
The German tenor’s performance swung from poetic intimacy to roof-raising passion
Rehearsals for the Royal Opera’s new production of Andrea Chénier must be under way. The title role is being sung by Jonas Kaufmann and, while he is in London, he found a space in his diary for a song recital at Wigmore Hall. It was standing room only — no surprise when the programme was as packed full of plums as a late Christmas pudding.

The role of Andrea Chénier is based on the life of an elegant 18th-century French poet, though Giordano’s music is full-throated, hammer-and-tongs, Italian passion. Kaufmann is evidently gearing up for it, as the two sides of Chénier’s role were already vying for the stage here.

At one moment Kaufmann would be the poet, speaking the words with a soft, sensitive intimacy. At the next his bronzed, Wagnerian tenor would raise the Wigmore’s roof. A curmudgeon might say his singing was neither one thing nor the other. His admirers will retort that he does both so well.

The first half was all Schumann. A selection of five songs from the Kerner Lieder usefully warmed up the vocal cords. Many singers would kill to end their recitals with a performance of the rousing “Stille Tränen” half as powerful as this, not just slip it in near the start. Having taken a back seat thus far, the poet then stepped forward — aptly — for Schumann’s Dichterliebe (“A Poet’s Love”). Here Kaufmann showed his versatility, putting across more of the words than the average recitalist, and with an understated, simple honesty. The story of the young man who loves a girl was beguilingly told. The single adjective “heimlich” in another song went straight to the heart.

In the second half two song cycles from the height of the Romantic era really gave the audience its money’s worth. Kaufmann has sung Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder in London before with orchestra. With a solo pianist as accompaniment, the marvellously supportive Helmut Deutsch, he made something different of it, an intimate avowal of love. Then Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets — the ultimate tenorial showpieces — took the singer to heights of ardour and sensitivity, blazing top notes and whispered falsettos. Andrea Chénier’s three hours do not hold more poetry and passion than this.

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