The mighty Jonas Kaufmann and leading lieder pianist Helmut Deutsch performed at The Barbican this weekend for the first in three concerts of their Kaufmann Residency programme. The concert was a long-awaited return for Kaufmann who had spent months away from the stage due to a vocal illness – seeing him last night just proved how healthy the man was, and how prepared he was to perform again.
This is not the first time that Kaufmann and Deutsch have performed together. In fact, they have recorded CDs (including works by Richard Strauss and Schubert) and performed at international concert halls; New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Wigmore Hall, to name a few. Their musical partnership and long-term friendship was visible last night, including their remarkable synergy working and performing together.
The evening was a personal recital for Kaufmann, particularly focusing on lieder, and piano and voice by composers Schumann, Duparc and Britten. Yet before throwing us in, Kaufmann gave some introductory words on the reasons behind the programme noting not only his love for these works but also his desire to perform them live to an audience – as if it were part of his bucket list.
Shortly after, he pointed out how during a rehearsal they heard squeaky noises coming from the floor which meant repositioning himself, slightly off-centre, suggesting another singer had been ‘sweating’ away during their performance. However, jokes aside, the concert was outstanding and one to be remembered. Kaufmann presenting himself as a composed and versatile tenor through his perfomance of three very distinct pieces of music.
Schumann’s Kerner Lieder, Op 35 (1840) is a song-cycle Schumann dedicated to his wife Clara. It is filled with ceremonial chorale (Auf das Trinkglas eines verstorbenen Freundes), marches (Wanderung), German walking songs (Wanderlied), contemplative musing (Erstes Grün), and gentle and slow love songs (Stille Tränen, Wer machte dich so krank? and Alte Laute.) Kaufmann instilled all of the moods for each song, moving from blissful, steady tempo to drawn back and heavily set gentle singing. Deutsch’s piano work was also delicate, tender and precise. In Erstes Grün the audience saw the contrast between his fine playing through major chords while Kaufmann sang in minor keys denoting a man’s love for a woman who had ‘healed’ many hearts.
— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) February 4, 2017
After the interval, The Barbican got a flavour of Henri Duparc’s and Benjamin Britten’s works. With the audience taking a back seat, Kaufmann revealed the softness and lyrical splendour of Duparc’s music (1870). He vocally paced himself evenly for the song L’invitation au voyage, which Duparc had dedicated to his wife, and its sensitivity and nostalgic story-telling was transformed through Kaufmann who appeared entirely immersed in the heart of the song. Moving away from melancholy and sorrow, Kaufmann sang Phidylé poignantly, carefully and slowly. This melodious and gentle song requires extra patience and Kaufmann was in no rush to sing the word ‘Repose’ (rest). Then, there was the next challenge of singing a fast-paced and robust sounding song Le manoir de Rosemonde which is where Kaufmann displayed his sharp ability to adapt. The song itself is temperamental, shifting scales up and down, and Duparc imparted the quick and snappy scales, while Kaufmann sang high note to instantly changing the dynamic to sneaky, little quieter ones.
The evening concluded with a real showpiece, Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op 22 (1940), giving the audience their money’s worth. Britten wrote these non-English pieces on love and its contrasting moods, which is rarely performed. Although it is a lesser-known work, Kaufmann and Deutsch impressed and managed to convert many to respect Britten’s songs. Singing with feverish ardour, Kaufmann displayed the eclectic character within the song, Sì come nella penna e nell’inchiostro and Deutsch showed off its interesting composition. Both performed illuminated and gently again in Veggio co’ be’ vostr’occhi un dolce lume and adding fast-tempo wit and fun in Tu sa, ch’io so, signor mie, che tu sai and S’un casto amor, s’una pietà superna.
The evening was a vocal journey of love, despair and nostalgia. The concert’s encore was Richard Strauss’s Nichts, which revived the audience back to a joyous conclusion. Kaufmann is due to sing the lead role of Otello at the Covent Garden this summer. From last night’s thrilling performance, it appears as if Jonas is more than ready to take on the dramatic role.
— Mary Grace Nguyen (@MaryGNguyen) February 4, 2017
Jonas Kaufmann is performing again at The Barbican on Wed 8 February for Kaufmann sings Wagner and Monday 13 February for Kaufmann sings Four Last Songs. Unfortunately, these concerts are sold out, but for more information, check the websites (Wed) (Mon). Kaufmann is also having a conversation with students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on Friday 10 February, 2pm. For more information about this sold-out event, click here. For information on Otello at the Royal Opera House, click here.
- Strauss: Lieder ~ Jonas Kaufmann with Helmut Deutsch (Richard Strauss) HARMONIA MUNDI (2006)
- Schumann: Kerner Lieder – Roderick Williams with Helmut Deutsch, Wigmore Hall Live (2012)
- Duparc: 12 Mélodies (Mono Version) Camille Maurane and Lily Bienvenu, BNF Collection 2016 © 1956
- Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op. 22 – Benjamin Britten – Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten, Eloquence, 1954