Buenos Aires Herald, August 17, 2016
By Pablo Bardin
Recital, Buenos Aires, Teatro Colon, 14. August 2016
Kaufmann unleashes euphoric delirium at Colón
Triumphant artist delivers the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades
I won’t mince words: the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades. Jonas Kaufmann, a week after the ill-planned ending of the Barenboim Festival, came back for a song session (mainly Lieder) with his longtime accompanist Helmut Deutsch at the Colón. And this time he sang a perfect programme with groups of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Liszt and Richard Strauss.

From the beginning, he had the support of an anxious, knowledgeable and packed audience, who grew more and more enthusiastic. What happened after the last note of Strauss was a euphoric delirium as an incredible string of seven encores, proof not only of generosity but also of joy and gratitude, allowing the audience to hear him in opera and operetta repertoire. Kaufmann had conquered Buenos Aires with the highest vocal art; he demonstrated that, here as in Europe, the audience discriminates and not only reacts to tenors with splendid high Cs.

Kaufmann is a linguist: Munich-born, his Italian is quite good and his French admirable. His memory is faultless: I followed with a score the majority of the songs and his always clear diction never missed a syllable; and, like that ideal baritone, the young Fischer-Dieskau, he gives dramatic sense to everything he sings without ever going overboard, and the musical values are exact, carefully following every nuance indicated by the composer. By the way, if you are intrigued by who sang an impeccable recital more than 40 years ago, it was Nicolai Gedda, but he did it at the Metro, not the Colón.

Kaufmann’s stance is revealing: he stands close to the piano and he focuses completely on the song, scarcely moving, using his hands occasionally with sober gestures for emphasis. His timbre is particular, hardly the typical tenor: it is never fully open. Don’t expect from him the stratospheric highs of Alfredo Kraus, he of the purest bel canto. But Kaufmann is the consummate master of the chiaroscuro, his breath control is amazing, and no other tenor in my experience has his ability to sing “piano-pianissimo” a “normal” high note and raise it to “forte.”

A special paragraph on the Viennese Deutsch, the veteran and wonderful accompanist, whose work throughout was simply ideal. Mind you, he was for 12 years the accompanist of Hermann Prey, the only baritone who could match Fischer-Dieskau. Later, in Munich, he was professor of vocal interpretation for 28 years and taught and accompanied not only Kaufmann but first-rate artists like Diana Damrau and Michael Volle. He has recorded more than 100 CDs.

There’s very little doubt that the programme was designed by both singer and pianist. It was unfailingly right. The Schubert started with two joyful pieces: Der Musensohn (“The Son of the Muses,” on a text by Goethe), all merry jumping, and the famous Die Forelle (“The Trout”). Then, the delightful watery Der Jüngling an der Quelle (“The Young Man at the Source”), sung subtly and softly (but his projection is such that you hear him well if you are in the Colón’s gallery). And that Lindenbaum (“Linden Tree”) whose melody seems folkish but is part of the stark Die Winterreise (“The Winter Voyage”).

Then came the Schumann group, a selection of the Twelve Poems by Justinus Kerner Op. 35, very attractive and with the best Schumannesque style. Of the chosen five, I would single out the dramatic power of Lust der Sturmnacht (“Lust of the Stormy Night”) and the Romantic impulse of Stille Tränen (“Silent tears”). Kaufmann gave us each mood with moving sensibility.

And then, the so special case of Henri Duparc, born in 1848 and by 1885 no longer a composer after having produced some of the most exquisite “chansons d’art”; a strange mental condition cut off his creativity until his death in 1933. The four sung by our tenor are gems: the exquisite L’invitation au voyage (“The invitation to Travel”) on that often quoted text by Baudelaire that includes “order and beauty, luxury, calm and lust”; the dramatic Le manoir de Rosemonde (“Rosamunde’s Country House”); the Chanson triste (“Sad Song”), which mirrors that feeling admirably; and Phidylé, a love song.

But the best was yet to come. Most know Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets in their piano transcription, but they were born as elaborate, refined songs. You will never hear them in such subjugating interpretations as Kaufmann gave us: with unbelievable feats of subtle vocality, he went higher and sweeter, and higher — until you were convinced that this was an unmatched experience.

And then, the Strauss group, in which I have my sole complaint: Ich liebe dich and Freundliche vision were changed without notice. Anyway, the expansive writing let him free his voice in Heimliche Aufforderung (“Secret Invitation”) and the final Cäcilie, and the composer’s humour came forward on two Von Schack songs, Op. 19, where the tenor showed that he had also mastered that style.

The encores were a separate recital and crushed any lingering doubt. It’s only once in your life that you get to hear the final phrase of Bizet’s Flower Aria from Carmen and the Verdian Celeste Aida as they are written, ascending to a pianissimo; but his Radames lacked no power. Then, Verista expression in L’anima ho stanca from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur; a Refice song, Ombra di nube. Nessun dorma from Puccini’s Turandot, where the tenor showed his solidity and the audience officiated admirably as choir in the fragment where Calaf doesn’t sing. Then, like a native Neapolitan, Core ‘ngrato (Catarí) by Cardillo. And finally, that glorious Lehár aria from The Land of Smiles, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (“Yours is my whole heart”), as beautifully sung as Tauber.

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