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Review: JONAS KAUFMANN at Carnegie Hall

By: Jan. 22, 2018
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Wondering if Jonas Kaufmann is going to go out onstage on any given night is something of a parlor game for many opera fans. Mr. Kaufmann has canceled, for whatever reasons, a number of high-profile engagements at the Met in the last few years, most recently an appearance in the current production of "Tosca." The most recent worries about whether or not he would make it to his January 20th recital at Carnegie Hall were put to rest when he strode through the doors with his pianist, Helmut Deutsch, in tow. And what followed was one glorious, hour-long traversal through Franz Schubert's 1823 song cycle, "Die schöne Müllerin," (The beautiful Miller maid") based on poems by the aptly named Wilhelm Müller. Although these poems were initially created as part of party games for a salon of creative intellectuals, they became much more with the addition of Schubert's sublime music.

The Romantic ideal of true love was not to be found in a lifelong, happy partnership. It was, as one writer put it, "about Romantic longing as its own reward, because it can only be satisfied by death." "Die schöne Müllerin" illustrates this path through twenty mostly strophic songs sung by a carefree miller. He is bursting with life, and as he walks along a babbling brook he makes it his confidant. He falls in love as he wanders. No happy thought goes unvoiced, and in "Ungeduld", the most well-known of these songs, the singer can let himself go full-throttle into ecstasies of love as he cries out "Dein ist mein Herz und soll es ewig bleiben!" (Yours is my heart and shall be forever!). Mr. Kaufmann did just that, his mahogany toned, gleamingly ardent tenor ringing to the rafters of the Hall. If he had stopped right there it would have been enough. All 2700 people in the room were with him, as evidenced by the miraculous audience silence when the last sound died away. And it was only the seventh song.

What followed was simply mesmerizing. Mr. Kaufmann brought the audience along with him through delirious happiness all the way to the final tragedy with the utmost of expression and understanding. In the deceptively simple "Trokne Blumen" (Dry Flowers), Mr. Kaufmann's sensitively shaped musical line held everyone spellbound, finishing with the heart-rending "Des Baches Wiegenlied" (The Brook's Lullaby) whose concluding lines ("Good night, good night! /Till all shall wake/ Sleep out your joy, sleep out your sorrow!/The full moon is rising/ The mist is yielding/ and heaven up there, how far!") left not a dry eye in the house. Although some vocal breaks could be heard now and then, these just added to the pathos of the story.

Mr.Deutsch was no mere accompanist. He played this extremely difficult score with exquisite attention to the ebb and flow of emotions as well as with technical mastery. Mr. Deutsch was Mr. Kaufmann's equal, breathing with him, watching his every move, and taking the lead when the music called for it. His pianistic depictions of the mill-wheel's turns and bangs, of the rippling water, and of the miller's emotional state throughout were truly breathtaking. The flow of energy between Mr. Kaufmann and Mr. Deutsch was musical collaboration at the highest possible level.

Mr. Kaufmann chose 4 more Schubert lieder with which to encore his splendid performance. One was from Schubert's other major song cycle, "Winterreise", but the one which sent the deeply appreciative audience out into the night with a song in their hearts was "Die Forelle" (The Trout).


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