Financial Times, 10 February 2017
by: Richard Fairman
Wagner-Konzert, London, Barbican, 8. Februar 2017
A brooding, romantic Jonas Kaufmann at the Barbican
The German tenor warmed to his task in an all-Wagner London concert
There had to be Wagner. Although Jonas Kaufmann is widely hailed as the leading German tenor of his generation, he is more likely to be found singing Verdi and Puccini or the operas of the Italian verismo school in the theatre. Perhaps he is keen to keep his sanity by retaining as wide a range of roles as he can.

Whatever the reason, his Wagner appearances remain sought-after dates in his diary. It was an obvious high point for the “Kaufmann Residency” at the Barbican to include Act One of Die Walküre in the company of Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra. By and large the occasion did not disappoint.

As a Wagnerian hors d’oeuvre Kaufmann offered the Wesendonck-Lieder, which he has sung before in London at a celebrity concert. Wagner intended these songs for a female singer and it may be that a male voice, lower within the orchestra, stands out less prominently. The vocal writing lies well for him, though, and he scores in an expressive sense by phrasing the music in whole sentences.

Kaufmann’s cautious start in those may have been the result of his long break for illness, but he warmed up gradually in Die Walküre. Heroic power has never been this tenor’s claim to the Wagner repertoire. He excels in the brooding, romantic warmth of his voice and a musicality that respects words and the vocal line, making his Siegmund more the matinee idol than the swashbuckling hero. In this concert the high-octane performance came from Karita Mattila’s charismatic Sieglinde, who is still a force to reckon with. She sang fearlessly and seemed charged with electricity even when she was seated waiting her turn. With Eric Halfvarson as the big-voiced, baleful Hunding, they made a strong cast.

Pappano’s Wagner, mostly broad and richly lyrical, is a well-known quantity from the Royal Opera House. Unfortunately, he had the LSO on less than note-perfect form, sounding unsure of the slow pulse in the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde and letting through minor slips every so often. That was not enough to stop the standing ovation at the end — a reminder that Kaufmann’s first Wagner with the Royal Opera is overdue.

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