The Austrians call it Schlager Musik a term for which there is no good translation other than “hit” music. I call it light classical music and leave it at that.

Jonas Kaufmann is running out of repertory after having completed the entire Wagner Heldentenor canon and then moved on to Puccini, Verdi, Mahler, et al. His is basically a hefty instrument with a clarion top, a baritone timbre in the middle voice, and, heaven knows, plenty of power, so that to tackle the rep featured in the SONY CD WIEN the German tenor has had to pull way back on the stentorian and lay on thickly the saccharine sound and schmaltzy delivery that back in the day made maidens swoon to the sound of that quintessential operetta tenor, the great Richard Tauber.

But that is like asking an ATV to drive in the cobblestoned alleyways of Alte Wien. From me Herr Kaufmann gets an E for effort if not for effortlessness: his handling of the ditties of Stolz, Sieczynsky, May, Johann Strauss, Lehar, Kalman, Zeller, Weinberger, Leopoldi, Benatzky, Kreuder, and Kreisler –all toll nineteen in this album – is vocally faultless at the mezzo-forte to forte levels. But when he goes for a mezza-voce top note that then turns into a breathy croon and good vocalism vanishes. And there are lots of top notes in this album: either the multi-decibel kind or the Dean Martin/Perry Como kind.

Elsewhere Kauffman phrases elegantly, but no matter how noble his intentions the outcome is not what some of us weaned on the recorded sounds of Peter Anders, Joseph Schmidt, Rudolf Schock, Fritz Wunderlich and, yes, Richard Tauber have come to expect from an interpreter of this charming and unabashedly sentimental music. This is a Siegfried in white tie and tails and decidedly not a good fit.

The accompaniment by the Vienna Philharmonic, no less, is deluxe, the conductor, Adam Fischer a moonlighting heavyweight, the brief participation of Rachel-Willis-Sorenson quite pretty, the accompanying booklet complete, the engineering professional, the singing good, but… lighten up Jonas.

*** E for EFFORT

Rafael de Acha

6 thoughts on “JONAS KAUFFMAN LITE

  1. I left out Gedda, a great stylist. And the great René Kollo, who I heard live as Lohengrin. I wouldn’t count either in my top ten, but top 20? Absolutely.


  2. You’ll not be surprised that my general preference leans to the bigger voices, so Melchior and Windgassen rank quite high for me for sheer expressive power and generally even technique. I would include Vickers for his animal, visceral expressiveness and textual attention. He is the only one of the three, of course, who I heard live, and several times as Canio, Samson and Florestan.

    For style and beauty: Björling, Bergonzi and Wunderlich beat them all in my view.

    For sheer excitement and absolute vocal abandon (which, as a teacher, I don’t recommend as ones ideal): Corelli

    In fact, I’d sit and revel in Corelli’s singing all day!

    But, Schmidt…he might be the true rarity for me – somehow he had the brilliance, the depth of color and the textual and dramatic expressiveness all gathered into an exceptional technique. It is truly the world’s loss that he died so early and so tragically.


  3. I appreciate that you approached this review with a lightness that seems to have failed Mr. Kauffman!

    Most especially, however, I love that you make mention of the incredible Josef Schmidt. I was introduced to this singular singer some years ago, purely by chance, having purchased some old records for my phonograph from an antique store, and he was among the group. I ran to YouTube, where I discovered some film clips and other, much better recordings. He ranks among my top five favorite tenors!


    1. I worked on reply to your wonderful comment and then lost it! Schmidt was barely five foot tall but a giant among singers and someone who lost his life tragically and untimely at the age of 38 in a Swiss Internment Camp during WWII…I am curious to know who your other favorite tenors are. Mine, in random order are: Tito Schipa whom I heard in recital in Los Angeles in 1964. He was 76 but could still deliver legato and pianissimo like nobody’s business. The Russian Ivan Kozlovsky sang into his seventies also, a great lyric tenor and a huge artist. The French tenors Henri Legay and Georges Thill were both great singers. Legay was the perfect Des Grieux in the De los Angeles recording of Massenet’s MANON, and Thill was a rarity: a French dramatic tenor who sang everything from Faust to Canio in Pagliacci yet always maintained a healthy lyric approach to everything he sang during a thirty year career that came to an end when he was in his mid-fifties and suffering from bad health. That is my list. Yours?


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