Buenos Aires Herald, August 9, 2016
By Pablo Bardin
Konzert, Buenos Aires, Teatro Colon, 6. August 2016
Barenboim Festival gets anti-climactic end
Choice of baritone repertoire mars local debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann
After calling the previous concert (Barenboim/Argerich/WEDO) the event of the year, readers may expect a rather enthusiastic response to the last concert of the Barenboim Festival. But three facts were regrettable to begin with: the programme was too short, it featured a famous tenor in baritone repertoire, and it’s simply and irrevocably unethical to repeat a major score in the same subscription series.

More to the point, the season programme, released in March, presented “the dashing debut of German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, will delight our public with the music of Richard Wagner (…) and they will discover one the maximal lyric expressions of our time.” And this is what we got: the Prelude to the Third Act of Wagner’s The Mastersingers; Gustav Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer; and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, Jupiter.

If the first item seems acceptable, it was the encore of Concert No. 5, the encore, not one of the announced fragments. But Mahler’s baritone? And the repetition of Mozart’s Jupiter (performed in the initial concert along with Symphonies No. 39 and No. 40)? There should be a limit to arbitrariness, even coming from world figures like Kaufmann and Barenboim.

As for Mahler: was it what the tenor wanted? Or did he propose something else and Barenboim vetoed it? Hard to tell, but Kaufmann will sing in Santiago de Chile a programme of operatic arias from Italian and French composers: Tosca, Aida, Carmen, Cavalleria Rusticana, Le Cid, Andrea Chenier and Turandot. Mouth-watering indeed, although it has no Wagner.

Two ways to have done a decent programme: a) change the Wagner symphonic pieces in the concert with Argerich with, say, Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, and play the same symphonic fragments around Kaufmann, singing arias from Lohengrin, Die Walküre and The Mastersingers (he has just sung the complete Mastersingers in Munich). b) Do the same programme as in Santiago, adding symphonic opera music to round it off.

I have perused the Mahler entry in the CD R.E.R. catalogue of 2000: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (“Songs of a Wayfarer”). The nature of the songs is clearly masculine, but several ladies of great career haven’t resisted the temptation and have recorded the lovely music.

But not one tenor has risked recording it and for good reason: hear the young Fischer-Dieskau with Furtwängler and then recollect what you heard at the Colón with Kaufmann, and what a falling off.

The voice sounded veiled and out of register, but the man is an artist and of course he phrased with expression and taste, splendidly accompanied by Barenboim and his WEDO (West-Eastern Divan Orchestra). Then came the very partial saving grace, after just 18 minutes of singing: the lovely Winsterstürme, Siegmund’s aria from Die Walküre.

There his real voice emerged. And then, helpers moved the piano and Barenboim accompanied him in the Tristanesque Träume, last of the Five Wesendonk Lieder: beautifully done, though he was poaching in soprano repertoire. At least in this case Kaufmann has two antecedents: Melchior and Kollo, but both with orchestrations not done by Wagner.

Two years ago I wrote enthusiastically about his Alvaro (La Forza del Destino) in Munich: even in a horrid staging there was no doubt about his exalted category. So he owes us a second visit singing opera and has shown bad judgment in his debut. I do hold great hopes for his forthcoming Lieder recital on August 14 at the Colón.

It transpired that both Argerich and Barenboim were affected by the flu, markedly so last Friday when they repeated the fifth programme, in which Argerich played a Chopin Mazurka as an encore but Barenboim added nothing; and that Barenboim wasn’t cured on the concert with Kaufmann. There was no encore after the Jupiter, to my mind played with less rhythmic bite than on the first concert (of course everyone was fresher then).

One can only hope that next year Barenboim will be more careful: he owes it not just to the public, but to himself. This is a very expensive series, and two concerts were clearly below par. Let’s have a real festival where everything is topnotch.

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