17 Oct 2006


Virtuosic, expressive, subtle evocative – these words can be used to describe various aspects of the Lieder of Richard Strauss.

These works offer not only a variety of intriguing settings of poetry, but are also a fascinating for the way the composer allows vocal timbres to shape the content. In this selection of Lieder from various periods in Strauss’s life, the tenor Jonas Kaufmann and the pianist Helmut Deutsch include some familiar pieces, as well as music that may be less well know. Some of the pieces, like “Zueignung,” “Allerseelen,” and “Heimlich Aufforderung” and “Morgen!” are often heard in recital, while others may be less familiar and nonetheless moving. Kaufmann’s rich tenor voice is particularly effective in this repertoire, which approaches with sensitivity to the texts and enthusiasm for the music. His ringing, resonant sound helps to bring out Strauss’s wide-ranging melodic lines. Likewise, his capacity for a range of dynamic levels contributes to the expressiveness that this repertoire demands.

At the same time, the accompaniment of these songs sometimes exceeds the bounds of the piano, with keyboard timbres that suggest the scoring Strauss used for the orchestral versions of some of his Lieder. The accompanist for Strauss’s Lieder must, at times, become an equal partner in performing these works successfully, and Deutsch’s facility lends itself well to these works. As a pianist who recorded all of the Lieder of Brahms, Deutsch is well-suited to performing Strauss’s works in this genre. He not only delivers the full-sounding chords that are de rigeur in some pieces, but Deutsch offers adept readings the more intricate figuration found in a setting like “Schlechtes Wetter,” which is particularly effective in his hands.

The aggressive character of some of these pieces can add demands to the voice, and Kaufmann brings a vigorous quality that seems tireless. Not jus a strong voice, Kaufmann posses a vibrant tone that allows him to infuse sustained pitches with dynamism that adds to these performances of Strauss’s Lieder. While this may not be approach that other singers may choose, it contributes to Kaufmann’s interpretations of Strauss’s Lieder and, in particular, the ones he selected for this recording. Even in the subdued passages of some songs, like “Heimliche Aufforderung,” Kaufmann retains an intensity that sustains the line. Likewise, Deutsch brings elicits wonderfully rich sonorities in the accompaniment of these settings, as occurs with “Cäcilie,” as well as others. The two seem to play off each other intuitively, and the result can evoke chamber music, as with their performance of “Traum durch Dämmerung.” In fact, the latter is memorable for the subtle control Kaufmann uses to keep from overstating the concluding strophe of the text.

A number of the Lieder included in this recording are familiar in their orchestral versions, and this makes the recording all the more interesting. The larger canvases of the orchestrations are not without interest, but the versions for voice and piano allow for a more intimate ensemble like that which Kaufmann and Deutsch bring out well in this set of performances. The immediacy of the piano versions is not always possible with orchestra, and this aspect of the music makes this recording particularly attractive. While the piano cannot convey the specific timbres found in Strauss’s orchestrations, Deutsch’s nuanced playing is quite exciting and colorful for what the pianist brings to the accompaniments.

In fact, the sound on this recording allows for a lively tone that makes these nuances audible, while still maintaining the intimate ensemble between Deutsch and Kaufmann. Like other recordings on the Harmonia Mundi label, this one benefits from well-thought mastering. Not only is the piano clearly present, but the voice is neither distorted nor obscured. With a song like “Mein Herz ist stumm,” for example, the subtleties that Kaufmann brings to his interpretation are evident and yet never overshadowed by the accompaniment. While this is due to the ensemble between the performers, it is laudable when such balance that is possible in a live recital also emerges clearly in a recording.

This recording of Strauss’s Lieder represents some fine performances of selections that are well-suited to a tenor, and Jonas Kaufmann is particularly effective with the music chosen for this CD. The pieces fit his voice well, with the tessitura of Lieder like “Sehnsucht” demonstrating the need to consider the appropriate voice type for this repertoire. While a single performer, like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, can record the entirety of Strauss’s output in this genre, it is also useful to hear these works executed by such a tenor like Kaufmann, who brings his own strengths to them. Kaufmann is a fine interpreter of this repertoire, and one can look forward to further performances and recordings from him.

James L. Zychowicz