Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jonas Kaufmann Decca Recital: Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven & Wagner

For weeks now I've been obsessed with two extremely different CD recitals. I've written already about Simon Keenlyside's outstanding Wigmore Hall song recital and now it's time to rave about Jonas and his Opera Arias of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven & Wagner.

In ''Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schön'' I was immediately struck by a similarity to another tenor's rendition of it: Fritz Wunderlich's. No, the two German tenors don't sound all that much the same - but Kaufmann's almost seemingly innate beauty of line felt nearly identical to Wunderlich's. It is Mozart singing of an exquisite and unusual beauty.

The "Wunderlich Connection" continues with Schubert's too infrequently performed "Fierrabras" (of which a gorgeously sung, but bothersome regie production exists on DVD, Kaufmann gotten up as a young Schubert). As rare as the work tends to be, Wunderlich also is featured in a live performance. The opera has problems, but the recit and aria ''Was Quälst du mich, o Missgeschick . . . " might make a few converts to at least selections from this rather beautiful work.

An even more persuasive case for Schubert comes in one of the most exquisitely sung (and marvelously phrased) "Schon wenn es beginnt zu tagen" from Alfonso und Estrella. There is such delicate, almost gauzy shading in the middle of the aria, with Schubert's lied-like aria smelling strongly of Beethoven at times - and wondrously so. This really is a breathtaking performance in every way.

In the natural progression, Beethoven DOES arrive next in Florestan's great scene "Gott! welch Dunkel hier!" Here, Claudio Abbado's leads the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in one of the most sensitive preludes to this scene I have ever heard in a recording. Here, also, Herr Kaufmann outdoes himself from his live performance recording in giving a sense Florestan's depth of despair. - his opening "Gott!" - almost inaudible when he first enters - reveals a true groan of anguish as it swells to full tragic hopelessness - and from there builds into the ecstatic hymn of hope and love of life and Leonore at its end. Unbelievable. For a moment I searched my mind, "has there ever been a more sensitively and beautifully phrased performance of this? Vickers sprang immediately to mind, but I left him alone for a moment to answer myself with "with singing of such beauty and passion, why compare?"

The rest of the album's contents are five Wagnerian selections which bookend the disc. First up are Lohengrin's two famous arias and in them I think we're catching the beginning phases of one of the major Wagnerians of our very near future. The recital opens just about perfectly with one of the most heartfelt, richly nuanced renditions of "In fernem Land" I have heard in a long, long time. The conversational nature of the aria begins so gently, but with no loss of intensity as it builds, Kaufmann and Abbado stretching Wagner's lines with an almost gauzelike delicacy of dynamics that waver back and forth in the type of performance that has one on the edge of the seat, held rapt throughout as it explodes into the stunning climax only to again recede all of it so captured as if almost by some religious magic. And so it goes through all five Wagnerian arias.

Among all the operas I love, perhaps none is more dear to me (for many reasons) than Parsifal and in his two selections, Kaufmann captures that perfect balance of spirituality and storytelling so necessary in this role. The tenor's first cry of "Amfortas!" - the intensity and heartbreak inherent in his sound - almost as if built into it, reminded me (again) of Vickers in this moment.

To end this album with the entire final Grail Ceremony is an incredible touch (to me, at least) and while generally I would prefer this music not be taken out of context, Abbado leads his forces (including the Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma) in an effective reading that can only be commended and Kaufmann's
two shining moments as the Innocent Fool become the Grail King only whet
the appetite for what's to come. It should be something special.

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