Love-songs by Schumann & Brahms
Diana Damrau (soprano), Jonas Kaufmann (tenor) & Helmut Deutsch (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 29 March, 2022
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The stellar trio of Diana Damrau, Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch had a great success with their tour and recording of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch, and they have adopted a similar formula to this sequence of love-songs by Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. And, like the ghost at the feast, there hovers the presence of Schumann’s wife Clara and her complicated relationship with young Johannes, fourteen years her junior, whose unconsummated passion for her thrived in his songs. The sequence of alternating Schumann and Brahms songs and duets (planned by Deutsch?) was serious in the hour-long first half, all pain, bliss and despair, then lighter and more mischievous in the second.
The singers’ understated interaction was very engaging, and Damrau showed off two fabulous gowns in each half. You could hear Damrau’s considerable accomplishments as a coloratura soprano – there’s an ease of passage in her voice that can pay very subtle games in matters of weight and substance, ideal for Lieder. You think her sound is about to evaporate, and then she suddenly injects a gleam of steel to add focus. It’s the weightlessness you remember, though, that and her words-first delivery of the many ultra-romantic texts, along with some magnificently extended phrasing. Her first song, ‘Jemand’ (from Schumann’s Myrthen) was a stream of pliant vocal silver, while she slid easily into the liminal eroticism of Brahms’s Es träumte mir.
The nearest Jonas Kaufmann got to Heldentenor mode was in songs such as Schumann’s well-known Widmung and Stille Tränen, which he flooded with intensity. He used his half-voice and crooning high register to seductive effect, and in a song like Brahms’s ‘Waldeinsamkeit’, from Op.85, Kaufmann was peerless in sustaining a dreamy stillness. He also inflected the chemistry between him and Damrau, half teasing, half something a bit more charged, to give a duet such as Schumann’s ‘Er und sie’, from Op.78, a sly vitality. Together, they are quite an act.Another factor that came across is simply that Schumann is the better Lieder composer, something that Helmut Deutsch’s role at the piano gradually made clear with considerable tact. Schumann is just more the poet, implicit, with a natural fluency from piano parts that don’t jar with the scale of vocal line or the text. Brahms is more considered, more explicit, with piano parts subconsciously often knocking at the orchestra’s door. And, not surprisingly, each complements the other very eloquently, especially in the hands of a master pianist such as Deutsch, who sustained the dreams, humour and passions of a long recital to make the time fly by, with the trio’s encore, Schumann’s Unterm Fenster, a neat way of signing off.