horizontal line

To celebrate the season, let’s enjoy today’s heartthrob tenor, Jonas Kaufmann. His album Wien is an interesting attempt to provide more than just the usual lollipops. So Strauss II’s Wiener Blut and Léhar’s Die Lustige Witwe are there alongside lesser-known composers. Many fl ed to safety during the War, such as Hans May and Jaromír Weinberger, or Hermann Leopoldi who reached the USA after his wife bribed him out of Buchenwald concentration camp. The music is, unsurprisingly, bittersweet. For his final number, Kaufmann sings Georg Kreisler’s acerbic ‘Der Tod, das muss ein Wiener sein’ (‘Death must be a man from Vienna’), a satirical song that debunks the Viennese tendency to romanticise and linger in the past. Only a native could vouch for the Bavarian’s Viennese accent, but the booklet describes it as ‘quite good’ – damning with faint praise.

It’s a strong programme with excellent range. There is method to the selection, when he could have just warbled hits. On the whole, the music is very listenable, and you will probably recognise numbers such as Sieczyńki’s graceful ‘Wien, Wien, nur du allein’, a classic case of earworm. Kaufmann has an undeniably gorgeous tone to his tenor, but here is recorded so close to the mic that he must have been nibbling it, and consequently it sounds as though he’s breathing down your neck. It means that he can take his foot off the pedal and sing in a half voice, but that also pushes his vocal mannerisms to the fore. He croons and scoops to his heart’s content – what makes a droopy Renée Fleming sound like Birgit Nilsson at her most incisive. It is one thing to caress the line and allow some tender character and portamento into the performance, but it is another to scoop and slither and slurp. It’s supposed to be nostalgia, not soup. We also hear where the nap has worn off the voice: I suspect that sometimes this is an artistic choice to lighten the tone and create a more conversational and approachable sound, but this is the first time I’ve listened to Kaufmann (either recorded or live) and have noticed the years advancing.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen joins him for three duets and despite her resonant soprano, reveals no allure. But there is a God: the booklet has texts and translations! Though the interview with Kaufmann is interesting, I would have preferred some information about the composers and music. Some people are never happy.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

   Read full review   

To continue reading, please upgrade to a premium account. You will have immediate full access.

Read more classical music reviews online here:

Opera Now, 2019 - ©Rhinegold Publishing