Seen and Heard International, 11/10/2021
by Rick Perdian
Liederabend, New York, Carnegiehall, 9. Oktober 2021
Jonas Kaufmann gives unsparingly of himself and then some at Carnegie Hall
Fast on the heels of its gala opening night concert with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, The Philadelphia Orchestra and pianist Yuja Wang (review click here), Carnegie Hall presented tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch in a German Lieder recital. It is hard to top that much star power in the span of four days in the best of times, let alone as the performing arts emerge from lockdown and are still struggling to find their footing.

There were those in Carnegie Hall who undoubtedly wanted Kaufmann to sing his greatest hits from opera (during the encores a man’s voice could be heard above the din shouting ‘Aria!’). But for lovers of song, this was a concert that will long be remembered. Many in the audience have only experienced the German tenor since he became star, but for those of who caught him earlier in his career in Europe, it has been a fascinating journey to behold.

With lockdown, Kaufmann had the time to delve further into the world of Lieder, and the program featured songs from the two albums that he and Deutsch recorded during the pandemic. It was Deutsch who persuaded Kaufmann to do a recording entirely of Liszt songs, which have always featured in the tenor’s recital programs. The composer was one of the idols of Deutsch’s youth, along with the unlikely combination of conductor Herbert van Karajan and Hollywood star Elizabeth Taylor.

This album took its name from Liszt’s setting of Goethe’s poem ‘Freudvoll and Leidvoll’, of which two versions by the composer were performed. The first song that he sang was ‘Vergiftet sind meine Lieder’, in which he hurled his voice like a gleaming sword that reverberated throughout the hall. Softer, more lyrical songs, such as ‘Im Rhein, im schönen Strome’, were absolutely lovely, but in Liszt’s ballads there were glimpses of the heroic tenor that strides the world’s opera stages. ‘Die drei Zigeuner’ was the most fun, with both singer and pianist vividly depicting how to just get on with it when life doesn’t go your way.

The other recording was Selige Stunde, which is also the title of a song by Alexander Zemlinsky that was heard in the program. In the album, as here, the pair performed some of the most beloved songs in the repertoire.

There was a time not long ago, when one heard them regularly in recital, but in this day and age that is not the case. Some might even be considered maudlin, but beautiful melodies never go out of style. When Kaufmann sang the ‘Brahms’s Lullaby’ (‘Wiegenlied’), you could have heard a pin drop in the hall.

Kaufmann was in top form in his matinee-idol persona, complete with white tie and tails, singing Carl Bohm’s ‘Still wie die Nacht’ and Alois Melichar’s ‘In mir klingt ein Lied’, a setting of Chopin’s Etude No.3 in E major. (He had been in the same mode for Liszt’s ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’). How could you not have a catch in your throat as Kaufmann sang of tears trickling down suntanned cheeks and beard in Dvořák’s ‘Songs my mother taught me’ (‘Als die alte Mutter’)?

To close the recital, he sang Wolf’s ‘Verborgenheit’ and Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’. Seldom nowadays do you hear such a vigorous tenor voice singing Eduard Mörike’s sentiments of solitude and escape. With the Mahler, Kaufmann provided one last chance for the audience to luxuriate in his beautiful soft singing and the long, arching phrasings that had made such an impact throughout the recital. Deutsch’s performance of the postlude transported one to a far-off place of love and song, which Friedrich Rückert put into words and Mahler expressed so wondrously in music.

After 22 songs, sung with only a brief pause after the Liszt set, Kaufmann returned for six encores. The first was Schumann’s ‘Mondnacht’, which Kaufman sang with the same silvery sound and exquisite legato as he had the Mahler. Delight rippled through the audience when Deutsch began to play Schubert’s ‘Die Forelle’.

Standing at the back of the hall, waiting for their final bows after what all thought was the fourth and final encore, suddenly Deutsch sat down and played two notes. I heard a young man who was already out the door gasp ‘Morgen’ and quickly take a seat. His reward was a stunning performance of that most intimate of Strauss’s songs.

Yet again, Kaufmann and Deutsch returned to the stage and immediately launched into Strauss’s ‘Cäcilie’. After a few measures, Kaufmann stopped singing and spoke: ‘I give you everything, won’t you please turn off your cameras’. Applause broke out, which he tried to stifle. Then, with his blood boiling, those remaining in the hall heard the performance of a lifetime of Strauss’s exultant invitation to ecstasy.

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