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Briefly Noted: Kaufmann Takes Winter Walk

available at Amazon
Schubert, Winterreise, J. Kaufmann, H. Deutsch

(released on April 1, 2014)
Sony 8883795652 | 70'01"
Schubert's Winterreise is a baritone's song cycle, at least to my ears, just as Die schöne Müllerin will always be tenor territory. Schubert actually conceived both of these masterpieces in higher keys suited to a treble voice, but while a tenor's ethereal high range is perfectly suited to the derangement of the narrator of Die schöne Müllerin, the wandering loner of Winterreise just seems to require more of the purr and growl of a baritone, which is not to say that other voices, even a soprano, cannot succeed in it. Jonas Kaufmann has a pretty and heroic voice, yet while there are few moments in his new recording of Winterreise one might describe as unpleasant, this version of this bleak song cycle just does not add up to make dramatic sense over its entire arc. Kaufmann, who is German, has native pronunciation, but he tends to make gestures vocally -- the type of characterization used most by opera singers, and here he often modifies the sweetness of his tone toward a more baritone-ish throatiness -- rather than through diction. Relishing of text, one of the marks of great Lieder singers, is not a large part of this rendition. The pianist working with him, Helmut Deutsch, is solid, even perhaps overpowering at times, but he and Kaufmann do not always seem to see eye to eye -- indeed, they even disagreed about the cycle in their interview about it, printed in the booklet.

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