The Telegraph, 9 February 2017
Rupert Christiansen
Wagner-Konzert, London, Barbican, 8. Februar 2017
Jonas Kaufmann's extraordinary residency, plus all....
The Kaufmann Residency, Barbican Hall
After Saturday’s superlative lieder recital comes another extraordinary concert in Jonas Kaufmann’s residency at the Barbican Centre – this one devoted to Wagner, a composer whose music the German tenor has to date approached gingerly, albeit with great distinction.

The evening began with the prelude to Tristan und Isolde, played in the rather vulgar version that Wagner cooked up for such occasions: Antonio Pappano conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in a lush, spacious reading that made it sound more like a tone poem than the introduction to a psychological drama.

Then came something a little different, as Kaufmann essayed the Wesendonk Lieder, songs normally interpreted through a female voice. Although he has recorded this cycle, Kaufmann hasn’t often performed it publicly to my knowledge, and for all the poise and beauty in his reading, there were moments of discomfort, miscalculation and excessive use of pianissimo that paid diminishing returns. The more extravert “Schmerzen” came off better than the meditative “Im Treibhaus” or “Träume” on this account.

The main attraction, however, was Act One of Die Walküre. All credit to Pappano and the LSO, who gave a thrilling account of Siegmund’s breathless run through the woods, and to the black-voiced Eric Halfvarson as a chillingly implacable Hunding, but attention was inevitably focused on Kaufmann’s Siegmund and his Sieglinde, the dazzling Finnish soprano Karita Mattila no less.

No effort was made to “semi-stage” the performance, and the two stars didn’t visibly interact. I don’t know if they’ve collaborated before, but in personality they are chalk and cheese.

Kaufmann made the most noble and elegant of Siegmunds, impeccably musical in his attention to every note and syllable, rock-solid in his cries of “Wälse” and “Notung”, a model of good manners and tasteful legato in “Winterstürme” and withal perhaps a little anxious not to go over the edge or harm his recently healed vocal cords.

Mattila was something else, somewhere else. At 56, an age when most sopranos are fading, she is basking in an Indian summer, and like her legendary precursor Leonie Rysanek, she holds nothing back. This Sieglinde radiated a quality of ecstatic incandescent abandon that went way beyond mere vocalising – she was simply a woman who needed to be freed from misery, a woman who needed to give herself up to love. Kaufmann sang the music marvellously: but it was Mattila who found the heart of the drama and lived in it.

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