We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Helmut Deutsch and Jonas Kaufmann
Lieder recitals are a tough sell but you'd never have known it last night when rock-star tenor Jonas Kaufmann gave a stunning recital with collaborative pianist Helmut Deutsch.  They held the capacity audience spellbound for two hours and six (yes, SIX!) encores.  Not a whisper was heard, nor forbidden electronic device; even coughs were stifled.  The only sound made by the audience was a bit of program shuffling on two occasions when the printed program did not accurately reflect what was being performed onstage.

You will hear no complaints from us that the program was almost entirely 19th c. German; it was a study in depth, not breadth.  Mr. Kaufmann is a brilliant interpreter, employing his gorgeous instrument to convey the depth of feeling in each song.  He is in complete control of dynamics with the most exquisite messa di voce one could wish for.  His phrasing is elegant and he is in possession of the uncanny skill of coloring his words the way a painter layers paint on canvas.

The first half of the program was all Schumann.  We have written before about Schumann's "year of song writing" as his feelings for Clara were finally permitted consummation.  We don't believe we have heard Zwölf Gedichte, Op. 35 before last night but we would happily hear them again.  The poet Justinus Kerner was an optimist and the songs are mainly sunny in nature.  But our favorite was "Stille Tränen" in which Mr. Kaufmann floated his high notes as if they were balloons filled with helium.

Dichterliebe, Op. 48, composed the same year, 1840, made use of the darker poetry of Heinrich Heine and describes the course of a failed love affair, permitting Mr. Kaufmann to render moods from the initial hopefulness of "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai" to the concluding resolution of "Die alten, bösen Lieder" in which the poet dramatically buries his dreams in a huge coffin which endures a burial at sea.

We are far more familiar with this cycle and have our personal favorites:  "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" is filled with excitement; "Ich grolle nicht" is bitter and ironic; "Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" has a cynical flavor; "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" is filled with sorrow.  All of these moods and more were captured and embraced by Mr. Kaufmann.

The second half of the program was given over to Wagner and Liszt.  Richard Wagner's 1857 Wesendonck Lieder, Op. 91 with their chromatic harmonies and melodic motives (to be heard in Tristan and Isolde) were performed with incredible sensuality.

Franz Liszt's Tre sonetti di Petrarca, composed in the 1840's to texts by Petrarch, are bursting with passion.  In "Pace non trovo" we were vastly impressed by that beautiful messa di voce and those wild upward skips.

The audience showed the artists a lot of love at the conclusion of the recital and the artists returned the love with a series of six encores.  No one wanted to leave!  It is a rare event in a hall the size of Carnegie Hall to feel such an intimate connection with an artist.  Before the final encore, in a touching moment, Mr. Kaufmann got down on one knee to express his gratitude for the accolades he was receiving.  But ultimately, it was the audience that showed their gratitude for his performance with an endless standing ovation.

© meche kroop

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