on 14 February 2013
I have copies of almost all of Wagner operas with performances dating back to the early 1950s. I have seen most of them performed in various venues but, having just viewed amd reviewed a recent Tannhauser dvd with great disappointment it was more than a delight to hear Kauffmann's magnificent performances of an excellent and varied selection of items from Wagner's works. In fact, after I had listened to the first few excerpts I was near to tears with emotion. Wagner makes heavy demands on his tenors and to be successful the singer must have more than a powerful and well focused voice but must be capable of conveying the sense of the action in the music plus the softer and more lyrical episodes must be just as fine as the more dramatic declamations.
I have enjoyed many fine heldentenors and Domingo as well over the years but never one who seems to me to have everything! I suspect he can only improve and I look forward in the hope that he gets round to giving us a chance to hear him in complete versions of Tristan, Parsifal and Meistersinger.
This must be the best £9 I have spent in a long time!
on 12 February 2013
Confronted by truly great art words fail me. Magnificent singing and a very good orchestra. It is so wonderful to hear Wagner's music actually sung instead of only declaimed or at worst shouted and barked. Listening to this CD is a moving experience.
Firstly a warning, please be aware of what you are actually buying as the selection on this CD is not just a straight forward Wagner 'hits' type selection. However if you are a Wagner fan this a very thoughtful and well put together repertoire which brings together the obvious and the rare including the Wesendock-Lieder, rarely performed by a tenor as it was originally for a soprano. On the technical side this sounds on my HiFi at least, to be a very good well engineered disc with no obvious technical issues. I haven't transferred it to my iPod yet but cannot imagine that it will sound anything other than excellent.
This disc confirms Jonas Kaufmann as the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of his generation, including a monumentally great "In fernem Land", probably the best I have ever heard. Kaufmann brings drama and an intense but fully focused 'dark' low timbre vocal performance, always musical and you always know he is fully connected to what he is singing, there is no going through the motions with Mr Kaufmann. His interpretations of each piece are sublime, while having weight he still has a delicate touch where required. You have to wonder if Kaufmann will follow Placido Domingo in taking on lower Wagner roles in the future.
The Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin under Donald Runnicles helps Kaufmann by demonstrating an understanding of how each aria should be delivered with great sympathy to Kaufmann's performance.
This CD will not be for everyone as it is not as popularist as some of Kaufmann's other works such as Carmen and Tosca however IMHO this could be the opera release of the year.
UPDATE: I now also have the FLAC 24bit 96kHz Studio Master version of this from linnrecords dot com At £18 it is expensive but if you love Kaufmann, this CD or Wagner and you can play the FLAC files on your PC or media player then this version will blow your socks off. The CD version is excellent but the FLAC is exceptional and like all linnrecords downloads you can hear excerpts from each track before buying. The CD version is 318 mb but the FLAC Studio Master is 1,383 mb illustrating the much higher bit rate.
on 23 February 2013
You can buy any operatic recital disc of the last 60 years and not find a better example for any voice in any repertory. Kaufmann sings Wagner like Bergonzi sings verdi or Callas and Scotto sing bel canto. Interpretatively he is seminal and vocally glorious. The Walkure and Siegfried excerpts are extraordinary. He sings this music like Christa Ludvig sang Mahler. Its a combination of a great operatic performance nuanced with the sensitivity of a great lieder singer. If anyone ever thought that you couldn't make a personal emotional connection with Wagner's heroic tenor roles, just listen to Kaufmann. It's inspiring, it's moving, the Siegfried is actually funny when it should be and what a voice and what a musician; dark baritonal timbre which expands and rings out reminiscent of Mario Del Monaco then the finely spun head voice of a young Di Stefano and german diction that as Hugh Canning says, 'you could take dictation from'. This is seamless integration of vocals, musical nuance, characterisation and theatre between singer and Wagner's orchestral scoring. Forget the all-too typical battle between singer and orchestra in this music - rather we have a happy symbiosis. The pre-2nd world war tradition (probably authentic to the 19th century) of singing this music with bel canto technique combined with helden-tenor heft is alive and well with JW. Except you get the distinct impression that he could sing this music for 20 years and not dry out the voice, or limit his ability to phrase italian music.
Being picky, my only slight beef on this is the ordering of the pieces. Chronological order would have been preferable for the operatic excerpts as Kaufmann and Runnicles bring out the progression in the composition and vocal writing between Rienzi and Siegfried so clearly, that everything after the Ring excerpts sound a little anti-climatical. Those with the technology to re-order the tracking take note. Runnuicles and the Deutsche Oper are provide fantastic partners and the modern Decca sound is glorious.
I could easily find this CD to be more of an irritation than anything else-yet another collection of excerpts from the finest tenor suited to Wagner in a generation, with until today no complete recording of any of the operas (I am excluding Blu-ray performances!). I`m not a fan of excerpts discs at the best of times, but with Kaufmann even the "well it's better than nothing" syndrome was beginning to wear thin. Fortunately all this is counteracted not only by my having received the new complete Gergiev Walkure to soften the blow, but this disc DOES finally contain a complete work, albeit not one intended for a tenor.
The excerpts from the operas are superb-we get the unexpurgated "In Fernem Land" from Lohengrin, a superb Rome Narration, excerpts from Rienzi and Meistersinger and snippets from Walkure and a tantalising Siegfried murmuring superbly in the forest (sorry!), all sung with the dark burnished tone and firm legato we have come to expect. As an aside, what a nonsense this makes of trying to build up Klaus Florian Vogt as a Heldentenor-I actually find his thin and feeble voiced attempts to be pathetic in comparison to Kaufmann.
The orchestra is full and rich-the former "German State Opera Berlin" Orchestra has a distinguished recording past with Wagner and beyond, with outstanding recordings under Konwitschny, Jochum, Maazel, Sinopoli and Thielemann to name but a few, and here is in magnificent form under another under employed great Wagner conductor in Scotland's own Donald Runnicles-would that the 2nd and 3rd rate recordings made by Pentatone under Janowski had used THIS orchestra and conductor as this very change would surely elevate them to first class!
The absolute GOLD of this recording is the Wesendonck Lieder performed for the first time to my hearing by a tenor. Wagner marked the score "For the female voice" but I have no doubt he would have applauded this performance.
I am open to hearing songs more normally associated with the female voice sung by a tenor-I treasure a recording of Jerusalem and Masur in Strauss Lieder, and Melchior in Schumann, but this is something else.
The smoky tones of his baritonal tenor are ideally suited to each song, with tenderness in Der Engel, you can almost feel the sultry heat in Im Triebhaus, Schmerzen is filled with tortured anguish and Traume has an erotic passion and sensuous line which bodes so well for any future assumption of Tristan-we can but hope!
It's a masterclass in great singing and artistry, with Runnicles and the orchestra caught in rich, radiant form and perfectly balanced-so not an irritation at all, then!!!!
This is by far the finest recording Kaufmann has made and it is destined to be a classic of the genre. A "must hear" for lovers of Wagner-and great music making. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe
on 19 February 2013
I don't intend to write a detailed review of this superb disc but I urge anyone who is a fan of great singing (and playing) to rush to purchase it. In a desert of great Wagner tenors (Only Botha, Skelton and, to a lesser extent Dean Smith come close) it's a glorious pleasure to listen to Kaufmann's beautiful, powerful and searingly committed performance. Also the artist's questing intelligence shines out from every phrase. It is hard to cherry pick when it's all this good but listen to the way Kaufmann narrates the story of Tannhauser's disastrous pilgrimage to Rome, marvel at the power of his cries of "Walse" and be moved to tears by the simple art of his prayer from "Rienzi"
on 11 February 2013
Great Wagnerian tenors are like hen's teeth. We are gifted many who bravely tackle the repertoire, but few who prove a genuine pleasure to listen to in the long run. Domingo may be the closest we've come to balancing the necessary brawn and beauty in recent years, though even he cannot match the winningly idiomatic Jonas Kaufmann, as heard on this superb new recording.
Kaufmann has already performed Lohengrin and Siegmund on stage and Walter in concert. You can hear his Parsifal in New York and Vienna in the coming months (a role he sang in Zürich in 2006). This new Decca recording features his turns from Die Walküre, Meistersinger and Lohengrin, albeit the longer original version of the Grail Narration. The inclusion of passages from Rienzi, Tannhäuser and Siegfried, however, shows there is more gold in that there Rhein.
Throughout, Kaufmann sings with that famous and prerequisite baritonal heft while never stinting at the top of the range. Here is a hero to believe in, brilliantly told through Siegmund's 'Sword Monlogue'. Although Kaufmann sails sharp on the long gruelling cries of 'Wälse', there is no doubting his authority. The muted turning assurances of Rienzi's 'Allmächt'ger Vater, blick herab!' have contrasting Lieder-like tenderness and sincerity. Throughout, Donald Runnicles is in commanding form, pacing the performances beautifully with the Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin proving far more than mere accompanists.
Yet however alluring these operatic passages, they cannot top the promise of a future Tristan communicated through Kaufmann's unglaublich performance of the associated Wesendonck-Lieder. Here the tenor's experience with Schubert and Strauss pay rich rewards, delivering great textual clarity and charm. But he also has the muscle to sail thrillingly through 'Schmerzen' before weaving the balmy summer magic of 'Träume', required when we eventually hear him sing 'O sink hernieder, Nacht der Liebe'. The sum effect is totally out of this world, just as Wagner should be.
Kaufmann has planned his career intelligently so far. He has preserved the innate beauty of his voice while incorporating these great Wagnerian heroes. But, despite the promise of future glories captured on this disc, let's hope he keeps us waiting a little while longer.
on 3 March 2013
This is the best CD of Wagner excerpts for some time. Kaufmann is stunning and brilliantly supported by the masterly conducting of Runnicles. The excerpts from Lohengrin and Die Walküre are particularly fine. And the Wesendonck-Lieder are just as successful with a tenor of Kaufmann's distinction as with the more usual female voice.
on 28 February 2013
A wonderful performance from Mr Kaufmann and Maestro Runnicles, and a huge pleasure to hear The Wesendonck lieder sung by a man rather than the usual female performer. Certainly worth five stars.
BUT, I wish I had bought the CD rather than the download. The booklet in pdf is unpleasent to read, even when enlarged to fill my computer screen the print is small and thin. My biggest criticism is for the way the recording is divided into FOUR parts when imported into iTunes to add to my ipod. In Fernem Land is a track on its own. If downloads have to have certain data attached to them, why is it so often WRONG and why is it so difficult to correct. The track data for this disc is a joke, what is Frisco Mabel Joy Revisited because that is also a track on its own. The Wesendonck Lieder tracks are titled L.I.E. all five of them, and their little album is titled N'Dambi Pink Elephant.
BUY THE CD, NOT THE DOWNLOAD.
In these days of a dearth of Wagnerian tenors, Jonas Kaufmann stands out like a good deed in a naughty world. It is too easy to slip into superlatives when listening to him throw himself into six great Wagner tenor arias from six different operas without any apparent strain or damage to his magnificent instrument. If I am honest, I have two very minor reservations about what is otherwise a veritable feast of Heldentenor singing, devoid of bark, slide, whine, strain or glottal attack - just pharyngeally resonant, baritonally coloured vocalisation complete with ringing top notes and a poet's way with the text. They are these: first, Kaufmann is very closely miked and as such we are not really hearing anything like an opera-house acoustic, for all that we know he can fill those big, empty spaces. Secondly, Donald Runnicles' accompaniments are a tad careful and under-dramatised, emphasising beauty over imagination - sometimes even verging on the slack. I don't want to make too much of that when the playing is so good and the sound so grateful on the ear. I miss a little of the magic which a truly charismatic conductor can impart to the Woodbird music in the "Siegfried" excerpt but it's the combination of the tenor's power and subtlety which carries the day. Having said that, the orchestral postlude to the "Rienzi" aria is exquisitely played.
Of course these chunks merely have the effect of wishing to hear him in more complete roles, and these are gradually appearing in various formats, if not as what is now the rara avis of a studio recording.
Kaufmann remains the most striking and virile Wagner tenor of his voice-type since Ramon Vinay and Jon Vickers, whose timbre his so strongly resembles. We shall probably never hear another Melchior but to the majority of opera-lovers alive Kaufmann offers the best opportunity they will ever have of hearing Wagner sung superlatively. He shows no signs of acquiring vocal bad habits, having since curbed the glottal tic which was creeping into his Pinkerton back in 2008 and his artistry waxes with his experience. The slight hoarseness inherent in his tone lends it a distinctive character and an advantage in conveying desperation, which is why his Don José, Don Carlos (elsewhere) and Tannhäuser here in this recital are so affecting; the latter's monologue generates a gripping intensity. Of course, his diction is exemplary, too, and his willingness to sing softly a blessing, especially as it enhances the impact of his full-throated notes.
Of special interest is the original, two-stanza version of the "Lohengrin" narration and it forms the high point in an already definitive collection of Wagnerian highlights. Kaufmann is utterly credible as the heroic paradigm of chivalry.
For many, the surprise here will be in the manner of his delivery of the Wesendonck Lieder. It is rare to hear these songs performed by any voice other than a mezzo-soprano or a dramatic soprano as designated by Wagner and Kaufmann certainly makes the case for their interpretation by a tenor of his calibre - even if I won't necessarily be reaching for his version before those by Janet Baker, Christa Ludwig or Eileen Farrell; the female voice lends a special erotic frisson to these languorous songs, even if Kaufmann can compete with them in terms of legato and even beauty of tone.