The Berkeley Daily Planet, November 03, 2021
Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Liederabend, Berkeley, 25. Oktober 2021
Tenor Jonas Kaufmann Celebrates German Lieder in Recital with Pianist Helmut Deutsch
On a stormy Sunday, October 24, the audience at Zellerbach Hall was treated to a remarkable celebration of German lieder, or art song, performed by noted tenor Jonas Kaufmann accompanied by Helmut Deutsch on piano. Kaufmann, who is surely among the leading tenors of this moment in history, has never appeared with San Francisco Opera and recently canceled several engagements with the Metropolitan Opera, citing his desire to spend more time in his native Germany with his family. So Kaufmann’s appearance in Berkeley under the auspices of Cal Performances offered local audiences a rare opportunity to hear this great singer in a live recital setting.

What ensued was a love feast between performers and audience. Jonas Kaufmann walked on stage amidst thunderous applause and launched into extensive preliminary remarks in fluent English. He noted that he and his accompanist, Helmut Deutsch, had carefully planned this program in such a way that one song led into another in a carefully chosen order. He therefore asked that the audience kindly refrain from applause after each song, perhaps limiting themselves to applause after a group of songs or one song that stood out as exceptional. To this request the audience complied.

Opening the programs was a set of songs by Franz Liszt. From the very first note of the opening song, “Vergiftit sind meine Lieder” (“My songs are filled with poison”), the singer’s burnished tone was evident. Jonas Kaufmann’s tenor is a deep, dark voice with enormous power. Yet as became evident as the Liszt songs proceeded, Kaufmann also sings with remarkable subtlety, and his mezza voce delivery, as in the song, “Im Rhein, im schönen Strome” (“In the Rhein, the beautiful river”), can be sweet and beguiling. The third Liszt song, “Freudvoll und leidvoll” (“Joyful and sorrowful”), closed with a plea that you return the love another bears for you. On hearing this lovely closing wish, the audience responded with its first burst of spontaneous applause, well earned.

In the song, “Die Drei Zigeuner” (“The Three Gypsies”), Jonas Kaufmann infused his singing with subtle gestures that indicated a sense of down-to-earth humor in this song about the simple pleasures of sleeping, smoking, and making music in the face of poverty. Closing out the set of Liszt songs was the lovely “Die Lorely” (“Lorely”), which closed with an example of breathtaking vocal control as Jonas Kaufmann seemed to hold his breath interminably as he navigated the final rising syllables of this song’s poetry by Heinrich Heine. Throughout the Liszt songs, pianist Helmut Deutsch was a consummate accompanist who beautifully rendered Liszt’s writing for piano.

With no intermission and only a five-minute pause, Kaufmann and Deutsch launched into the program’s second half. The opening song was “Der Musensohn” (“The Son of the Muses”), by Franz Schubert. Here Schubert’s remarkable felicity for melody was evident both in the sung text and in the piano’s lyrical accompaniment. Next was a whimsical yet poignant song by Mozart, “Die Veilchen” (“The Violet”), set to a poem by Goethe. Following this was a Robert Schumann song dedicated to his wife, Clara Schumann, celebrating her as the composer’s guardian angel and better self. This lovely, heartfelt song was a highlight of the recital and received generous applause from the appreciative audience.

Among songs by various composers, including a second song by Franz Schubert, one by Antonin Dvorák, and one by Chopin, the famous Lullaby by Johannes Brahms stood out as particularly ingratiating. A song by Tchaikovsky, “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” (“Only he who knows longing,”) set to a text by Goethe, laments being cut off and far from the loved one. Next came a song on a similar theme by Richard Strauss, followed by a lovely, quiet song by Alexander Zemlinsky, “Selige Stunde” (“Blessed Hour”), in which Jonas Kaufmann’s mezza voce delivery was

eminently graceful. Closing out the program’s printed portion was Gustav Mahler’s song from his Rückert Lieder, the very moving “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (“I am lost to the world”). Fittingly, this song closes with the words, “Ich leb’ allein in meinem Himmel, In meinem Lieben, In meinem Lied” (“I live alone in my heaven, In my love, in my song”). And after these moving words are sung, Mahler’s poignant writing for piano was beautifully rendered by Helmut Deutsch.

Thunderous applause ensued. And Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch returned again and again to offer no less than eight encores! Among the more familiar songs were Franz Schubert’s “Die Forelle” (“The trout”), four of Richard Strauss’s lesser known songs, “Traume” (“Dream”), by Richard Wagner, and, finally, “Dein ist mein Ganzes Herz” (“Yours is my entire Heart” by Viennese operetta composer Franz Lehar, which closed with a fortissimo high note sung gorgeously by Jonas Kaufmann to thunderous applause. Thus ended one of the most magical concerts I have ever attended!

 back top