The star German tenor Jonas Kaufmann offered a substantial programme for his Wigmore recital, with an all-Schumann first half followed by familiar sets of songs by Wagner and Liszt in the second; but his voice was firing on all cylinders from the start, with no sense of warming-up during his initial selection of five of Schumann’s Kerner Lieder.
The scale of his vocalism, here and throughout the programme, was grand, even at times operatic, with a huge variety of tone on display including singing of the finest delicacy, and other moments when his voice rang out with thrilling intensity; the tenor’s mastery of vocal technique was amply demonstrated.
A closer identification with the detail of the text, though, would have been welcome here and in the performance of Dichterliebe that followed: Kaufmann’s interpretative gestures had a tendency to be broad and generalised rather than specific and localised.
Where Dichterliebe scored highly was in the unity of approach that Kaufmann and his excellent pianist Helmut Deutsch provided, with the latter matching the tenor’s vocal initiatives with an equally wide range of tonal colours. Moving swiftly on from one song to the next helped bind the cycle into one complex statement – even if some of the individual tempos chosen seemed on the sedate side.
In many ways the more lavish writing of Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs and Liszt’s Three Petrarch Sonnets suited Kaufmann’s vocal largesse better than the finer-grained intimacy of the Schumann settings. Deutsch, too, revelled in the virtuosic piano parts of the Liszt songs, which have rarely seemed more operatic than they did on this occasion. Yet however opulent the singing, Kaufmann retained perfect control over his instrument, producing some haunting effects and flooding Liszt’s effusive vocal lines with a wealth of glorious tone.