Top positive review
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Its easy mastery propels this to the top of the list
on 17 February 2014
A long review would be superfluous; this recording is every bit as good as we Kaufmann admirers had predicted - and in some ways better, as in addition to the power, beauty and colourific variety of his supple tenor, the singer has brought a new subtlety and insight to his interpretation of this most challenging of song cycles. It is also true that his long-time accompanist, Helmut Deutsch, seems inspired by their partnership to produce pianism of the utmost delicacy and control.
I recently reviewed another equally recommendable recording from Florian Boesch. His light but powerful baritone and Kaufmann's dark-hued tenor are not so very different, although obviously Boesch uses lower transpositions and the voice that Kaufmann has always most resembled is that of his predecessor Jon Vickers, who also recorded these songs but after so much Wagner singing, did not have the advantage of Kaufmann's flexibility. The tenor voice remains the ideal medium for this cycle, otherwise the piano, which spends so much time down in the deeper reaches of the instrument, can sound a tad muddy and the turbulent brook is transformed into oceanic depths. The technical balance and artistic collaboration between singer and pianist here are, alongside Martineau and Boesch, both the best on record; much of the time the listener is aware and appreciative of the conscious restraint they exercise to create the requisite winter chill
Let's briefly rehearse Kaufmann's gifts: pellucid diction, wonderful legato, seamless messa di voce and smooth dynamic transition, almost shocking reserves of power when required - as in the last line of the opening stanza of "Die Wetterfahne", when he thunders out "sie pfiffen den armen Flüchtling aus" - and of course a dreamily beautiful tenor voice, with a hint of huskiness flecked with gold.
Kaufmann is often prepared to drain that beautiful voice of colour and vibrato to underline the stark despair and increasing alienation of the despaired lover from the world. He magically conjures up the simultaneously seductive and faintly menacing voice of nature, as the trees, the will-o'-the-wisp and the crow beckon to him: "Kom her zu mir, Geselle, /hier findst du deine Ruh!" Everything here is natural and unforced; the extreme, alternating strophic mood-swings of "Frühlingstraum" are effortlessly encompassed without any superfluous histrionics.
By the time we reach the final song, we are experiencing the full and authentic effect of catharsis whereby the lover's sadness transcends its tragic conclusion to achieve an unearthly beauty.
Of course you'll buy this.
P.S. for a flavour of the intensity behind this recording, watch the promotional video on Kaufmann's website.