Wagner: Arias; Wesendonck-Lieder – review

Kaufmann/Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper/Runnicles

Jonas Kaufmann's long-awaited Wagner album, recorded in Berlin with the Deutsche Oper Orchestra under Donald Runnicles, is a thrilling if at times troubling affair. Consolidating the German tenor's growing reputation as a Wagner interpreter, it both sums up his achievement to date and takes him into new, potentially controversial territory.

We hear him as Siegmund in Die Walküre and as Lohengrin – his trademark roles – as well as Walther in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which he has sung in concert but has yet to perform on stage. Here, however, he adds Siegfried, Rienzi and Tannhäuser to the list; gruelling roles that he has yet to sing complete and probably never should. He also includes the Wesendonck-Lieder – usually performed by a soprano – on the grounds that the songs aren't gender-specific.

His artistry is exceptional. His sexy, heroic way with Siegmund, and the marvellous introversion he brings to Lohengrin's In Fernem Land, leave us in no doubt as to why he is today's interpreter of choice for both roles. Yet he brings the same insight and intensity to his new material. His almost baritonal lower registers and his ability to sing soft high notes are tremendously persuasive in the Wesendonck-Lieder. Tannhäuser's conflict between flesh and spirit is beautifully delineated. Best of all is Rienzi's prayer, in which his almost oceanic tone blends with the elegance of the fine Mozart singer he once was. You're left with mixed feelings – wanting more, yet aware that for Kaufmann to progress further brings with it the potential for placing intolerable stress on his voice.

There are flaws, though not of his making. The Tannhäuser extract breaks off where you least want it to, and the recording places him too far forward: though it captures his singing quite superbly, you never get a sense of his voice's natural weight against an orchestra, which is a real shame.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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