Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Wagner
with Margarete Joswig, mezzosoprano; Michael Volle, baritone; Valdis Janson, bass
Coro del Teatro Regio di Parma
Marco Finucci, chorus master
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Claudio Abbado, conductor
As it always happens with early recordings of now well established singers, also Jonas Kaufmann’s Sehnsucht offers a blend between the roles and composers that accompanied him in the first part of his career and those that he continues to perform successfully until now. The two extremes can be considered Mozart, a composer that Kaufmann has virtually abandoned but of whom he sang not only Tamino (and of course the aria and duet that are recorded here), but also Ferrando in Così fan tutte, and Wagner, the composer with whom Kaufmann’s name is now more commonly associated with – maybe – the only exception of Giuseppe Verdi.
Verdi is not included in the programme of Sehnsucht that, as the term immediately reveals, is devoted to German music from the late years of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century. Apart from the aforementioned Mozart (Die Zauberflöte) and Wagner (Lohengrin, Die Walküre and Parsifal), Sehnsucht includes three arias from Beethoven’s Fidelio and Schubert’s Fierrebras and Alfonso und Estella, providing the album with one more character (Florestan) that played a major role in Kaufmann’s career and two rarities.
I suppose that it is because this is an early recording or because it was intended for the German public that the booklet notes are only in German and, despite the fact that it is not very difficult to understand them, possibly with the help of a dictionary, if you have at least an idea of German grammar, it is inevitable that some remarks will be irremediably lost and this is a pity as some of them reported Kaufmann’s personal opinions. This is, by the way, the only reason to complain about Sehnsucht and, although I do not consider this a trifling one, the musical outcome satisfactorily compensate for this lack.
Kaufmann is at his best and excels both from the interpretative and the vocal point of view. Sehnsucht opens with the wonderful In fernem Land from Lohengrin and Kaufmann sings (and no less a conductor than Claudio Abbado conducts) it with uncommon inspiration. The tenor begins with a whisper that immediately enchants the listener and introduces him or her to a world of which it is easy to guess the sacredness. Few begins are as effective as this that features one of the most famous tenor arias of the Wagnerian repertoire sung with such accents and skill.
Mozart’s arias are foreseeably marvellous as the combination of a great composer and a remarkable singer never fails to create a wonder. The velvet of Kaufmann’s voice suits Dies Bildnis well and makes clearer than ever Tamino’s emotion in front of Pamina’s effigy, while in the duet Die Weisheitslehre baritone Michael Volle adds his fine voice to that of the tenor. Schubert’s operas are another matter and, in a certain sense, their outcome is more unexpected. The operas of this German composer are in fact disdained and considered inferior to his other works, but Kaufmann performs the two arias Was quälst du mich and Schon wenn es beginnt zu tagen in such a fine way that the prejudices on Schubert’s operas immediately disappear. The scene from Fidelio (Gott! welch Dunkel hier!), for its part, is a wonderful excerpt reminding of Kaufmann’s excellent performances on stage of the entire work. Here again, after Abbado’s magisterial introduction, Kaufmann begins with another enthralling pianissimo that then explodes in a short but heartfelt exclamation from which it is already guessable Florestan’s sorrow, a feeling that is later expressed with painful nuances in the first part and with melancholy in the second.
Three great scenes from two Wagner operas (Die Walküre and Parsifal) end the album. In the first (Siegmund’s Winterstürme wichen), Kaufmann sings with heroic and fearless temperament, making this a real triumph, while the next two scenes (Amfortas! Die Wunde! and Nur eine Waffe tangt), lasting more than nine minutes each, are the occasion for more varied expressions on the tenor’s part and for hearing the long orchestral finale (I call it this way because it ends the scene and the album as well) that Abbado conducts with extreme refinement and with luminous and precious colours.
In the end, it must be noted that Abbado’s conduction is as good as Kaufmann’s singing and that if Sehnsucht is such a memorable recording is for the conductor as well as for the singer. Apart from this, Kaufmann reaches in this album one of his best achievements and, despite many fine recordings he made in more recent times (I think more of The Puccini Album than of Dolce vita, to cite two album I reviewed for this blog), it is not a mistake to go back to Sehnsucht and enjoy four German composers performed by (one of) the greatest German tenors of our times.