I won´t mince words: the most important tenor chamber recital in more than four decades. Jonas Kaufmann, a week after the ill-planned ending of the Barenboim Festival, came back for a song session (mainly Lieder) with his longtime accompanist, Helmut Deutsch. And this time he sang a perfect programme with groups of songs by Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Liszt and Richard Strauss. This was at the Colón on last Sunday´s afternoon and for the Abono Verde.
He had the support from the beginning of an anxious, knowledgeable and packed audience, who grew more and more enthusiastic. What happened after the last note of Strauss was an euphoric delirium as an incredible string of seven encores, proof not only of generosity but also of joy and gratitude, allowed us to hear him in opera and operetta. Kaufmann had conquered Buenos Aires with the highest vocal art; he demonstrated that, here as in Europe, the audience discriminates and not only reacts to tenors with splendid high Cs.
Kaufmann is a linguist: Munich-born, his Italian is quite good and his French admirable. His memory is faultless: I followed with a score the majority of the songs and his always clear diction never missed a syllable; and, like that ideal baritone, the young Fischer-Dieskau, he gives dramatic sense to all he sings without ever going overboard, and the musical values are exact, following carefully every nuance indicated by the composer. By the way, if you are intrigued by who sang an impeccable recital more than forty years ago, he was Nicolai Gedda, but he did it at the Metro, not the Colón.
His stance is revealing: he stands close to the piano and he concentrates totally in the song, scarcely moving, giving occasionally emphasis with the hands with sober gestures. His timbre is particular, hardly the typical tenor; it is never totally open. Don´t expect from him the stratospheric highs of Alfredo Kraus, he of the purest bel canto. But Kaufmann is the consumate master of the chiaroscuro, his breath control is amazing, and no other tenor in my experience has his ability to sing "piano-pianissimo" a "normal" high note and grow it to "forte".
A special paragraph on the Viennese Helmut Deutsch, the veteran and still wonderful accompanist, whose work throughout was simply ideal. Mind you, he was the accompanist for twelve years of Hermann Prey, the only baritone that could match Fischer-Dieskau. Later, at Munich, he was professor of vocal interpretation for 28 years and taught and accompanied not only Kaufmann but first-rate artists as Diana Damrau and Michael Volle. He has recorded over a hundred CDs.
Nobody has told me but I have no doubt that the programme was designed by both singer and pianist. It was unfailingly right. The Schubert started with two joyful pieces: "Der Musensohn" ("The Son of the Muses", on a Goethe text), all merry jumping, and the famous "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"). Then, the delightful watery "Der Jüngling an der Quelle" ("The young man at the source"), sung subtly and softly (but his projection is such that you hear him well if you are in the Gallery). And that "Lindenbaum" ( "Linden tree") whose melody seems folkish but is part of the stark "Die Winterreise" ("The Winter Voyage").
Then came the Schumann group, a selection of the "Twelve poems by Justinus Kerner" Op.35, very attractive and with the best schumannesque style. Of the chosen five I would single out the dramatic power of "Lust der Sturmnacht" ("Lust of the stormy night") and the Romantic impulse of "Stille Tränen" ("Silent tears"). Kaufmann gave us each mood with moving sensibility.
And then, the so special case of Henri Duparc, born in 1848 and by 1885 no longer a composer after having produced some of the most exquisite "chansons d´art"; a strange mental condition cut off his creativity until his death in 1933. The four sung by our tenor are gems: the exquisite "L´invitation au voyage" ("The invitation to travel") on that often quoted text by Baudelaire that includes "order and beauty, luxury, calm and lust"; the dramatic "Le manoir de Rosemonde" ("Rosemonde´s country house"); the "Chanson triste" ("Sad song"), which mirrors that feeling admirably; and "Phidylé", a love song. I have long believed that these songs had their definitive interpretations by baritone Gérard Souzay; now I realize that a German tenor can be just as persuasive.
But the best was yet to come. Most know Liszt´s "Petrarch Sonnets" in their piano transcription, but they were born as elaborate, refined songs. You will never hear them in such subjugating interpretations as Kaufmann gave us: with unbelievable feats of subtle vocality he went higher and sweeter, and higher...until you were convinced that this was an unmatched experience.
And then, the Strauss group, in which I have my sole complaint: "Ich liebe dich" and "Freundliche vision" were changed and we were not told. Anyway, the expansive writing let him free his voice in "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("Secret Invitation") and the final "Cäcilie", and the composer´s humour came forward on two Von Schack songs, Op.19, where the tenor showed that he had also mastered that style.
The encores were a separate recital and destroyed any doubt that might be left. For once in your life you heard the final phrase of Bizet´s "Flower aria" from "Carmen" and the Verdian "Celeste Aida" as they are written, ascending to a pianissimo; but his Radames lacked no power. Then, Verista expression in "L´anima ho stanca" from Cilea´s "Adriana Lecouvreur"; a Refice song, "Ombra di nube". "Nessun dorma" from Puccini´s "Turandot", where the tenor showed the solidity of his means and the audience officiated admirably as choir in the fragment where Calaf doesn´t sing. Then, like a born Neapolitan, "Core ´ngrato" ("Catarí") by Cardillo. And finally, that glorious Lehár aria from "The Land of Smiles", "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" ("Yours is my whole heart"), as beautifully sung as Tauber.
Please come back with an operatic recital with the Colón´s Orquesta Estable!
For Buenos Aires Herald