Die Schöne Müllerin, D795
Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) & Helmut Deutsch (piano)
Recorded 30 July 2009 at Max-Joseph Saal, Munich
Reviewed by: Melanie Eskenazi
Reviewed: May 2010
CD No: DECCA 478 1528
Duration: 63 minutes
Jonas Kaufmann believes that “Die schöne Müllerin” is about an innocent lad who goes happily wandering until he falls in love with the Miller’s daughter, who dangles him about for a bit but then rejects him in favour of a ‘real’ man, a jolly green hunter. The thing is, Kaufmann never sounds other than a ‘real’ man, nor does he ever sound remotely self-pitying, so why ditch him and cause him to drown himself? Makes no sense.
As someone who frequently interviews singers I probably shouldn’t say this, but it’s not always a good thing for them to pontificate, since the reality of what they do when in front of that microphone or audience often confounds what they’ve said. The waspish among us might cite Kaufmann’s expressions of disdain for his ‘tenorhunk’ image whilst at the very same time being the subject of a six-page feature in “Elle”… but I digress. What we hear on this concert recording is a consistently beguiling, utterly melancholy and persuasively alluring performance – and it has virtually nothing of what the singer seems to think it has, namely the aura of a callow little fellow royally shafted by a jock and driven to drowning in the babbling brook.
Kaufmann is most impressive in ‘Morgenstern’ – his “O lass mich nur von ferne stehn’… von ferne, ganz von ferne” must be one of the most irresistible pleas ever committed to disc – fat chance that any red-blooded miller’s lass would chuck this guy away in favour of some green-clad hunter, and you’ll have to forgive the linguistic pedant in me, but his voicing of the umlaut in the second “köpfchen” almost brought a tear to these pernickety old eyes.
In ‘Pause’ Kaufmann makes the phrase “Ich kann nichts mehr singen, mein Herz ist zu voll” really mean what it says – and as for “weinen ganz totenbleich”, in ‘Die böse Farbe,’ it sounds more like crazed revenge than tasteful romantic weeping. In ‘Trockne Blumen’ the detail given to the phrase “tote Liebe”, the naked emotion of “heraus, heraus” and the slight break in the voice at “Winter” are all emotionally gripping, and the final song is deeply moving.
It almost goes without saying that Helmut Deutsch is an ideal accompanist: he brings with him a lifetime’s experience and love for this work, and it is no exaggeration to say that not only does he seem to breathe with the singer, but he phrases the music like an echo of the voice, supportive yet characterful, and always in the service of the music. He is easily the equal of Christoph Eschenbach (with Goerne) and I can think of no higher praise.
Kaufmann’s legions of fans will be delighted with this recording, and it should sell in healthy numbers. The cover illustration seems to be asking us to consider “Which of us is the more beautiful – the portrait or the singer?” (tough choice) but the translations and interview notes are fine, as is the unexpectedly interference-free recording – I had anticipated at least a few impossible-to-erase coughs and shuffles, but clearly this audience was either utterly enraptured or completely sloshed – maybe both. Alongside Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (with Moore) on DG, Peter Schreier (with András Schiff) on Decca and Goerne (with Eschenbach) on Harmonia Mundi, Kaufmann’s is a version I would not want to be without.