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Album Review: Jonas Kaufmann, Verismo Arias

By William Dart

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Jonas Kaufmann: Verismo Arias (Decca)
Rating: *****

Mark Padmore: Dichterliebe (Harmonia Mundi, through Ode Records)
Rating: *****

Verdict: "Two tenors deliver passion in opera house and concert hall."

Mark Padmore's  Dichterliebe . Photo / Supplied.
Mark Padmore's Dichterliebe . Photo / Supplied.

Opera is not known for holding back when dealing out passion and, with the verismo composers such as Mascagni and Leoncavallo, emotion, often at its most raw and tumultuous, rules.

Jonas Kaufmann's Verismo Arias includes a few favourites on its aria list. A searing Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci is followed by a lusty drinking song from Cavalleria Rusticana.

The joys of this recording, however, lie in the discoveries to be made. Romeo's tombside soliloquy from Zandonai's Giulietta e Romeo is a heart-wrencher, so lush one is surprised to find it dating from 1922.

When he lets forth with the hero's intense soul-searching in Giordano's Andrea Chenier, Kaufmann has a focus and a virility that could make the susceptible weak at the knees.

Yet there is such intimacy in Federico's lament from Cilea's L'Arlesiana, its comparatively fragile scoring showcasing the finesse of the Academy of Santa Cecilia orchestra under conductor Antonio Pappano.

The German tenor catches the poignancy of the disillusioned Faust from Boito's Mefistofele, reminding one that Boito was himself a fine composer.

Passion is less theatrical when Mark Padmore tackles Schumann's Dichterliebe with fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, coupling the song-cycle with the composer's earlier Liederkreis and slighter offerings from Franz Paul Lachner.

The English tenor has been performing these songs around England with accompanists ranging from Julius Drake to Imogen Cooper. Only last month, he reprised the programme, with Bezuidenhout, at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Padmore's vocal resources seem limitless, finding new colours for every chapter down Schumann's trail of lyrical despair. A glimmer of hope in the opening song is dashed by visions of flowers springing from fallen tears. The flutes, fiddles and trumpets at the beloved's wedding play with terrifying fury; old fairy tales are mocked with almost manic glee.

Using a 1837 Erard piano, Bezuidenhout produces pearl-like sonorities and there are many opportunities to enjoy his pianism, thanks to an ever-responsive Harmonia Mundi recording.

- NZ Herald

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