Recorded in "intimate private surroundings" at Herrschung am Ammersee, Germany, the disc of Romantic songs Selige Stunde was released around a week ago, on September 4. It features Jonas Kaufmann with his long-standing pianist, the respected Helmut Deutsch. The pair first met in 1991 when Kaufmann was a student in Munich, where Deutsch was a Professor in Lied Performance. They have worked together now for almost 30 years.
The songs dwell on love and longing (the title comes from a Zemlinsky song on the album - more on that composer anon). The familiar rubs shoulders with the corners of the repertoire; and how good is it to see some Beethoven Songs in there for the rained off Beethoven Year? Not to mention some Mozart. We start with some familiar Schubert, though, a bright and vivacious Der Musensohn, D764:
Anyone who has heard Jessye Norman sing the Richard Strauss song Zueignung (Dedication) will know Kaufmann has big shoes to fill. Norman in this next video has the advantage of an orchestra behind her, but those of us who heard her sing this song live (it was a Jessye favourite) will remember the sheer enormity of heart she invested in performance, and her ecstatic way with that ascending interval that closes the vocal line:
Kaufmann and Deutsch inevitably begin in a more intimate manner - this is very much of the song recital, not the international concert stage, as befits the circumstances of recording. Yet his climax - aided and abetted by a terrifically passionate outburst from Deutsch on piano - is just as involving. Fascinating to hear two such different voices and personalities both honour the score so perfectly:
Chopin might seem an interloper, an opportunity in a recital to give the singer a rest, perhaps. Not here: it's a song arrangement of the E Major Etude, Op. 10/3 (you'll know it) by Alois Melichar entitled "In mir klingt ein Lied". Here's the arrangement, and we'll hear a version of the piano original after, to hear just how suited Chopin's cantabile line is to song (and perhaps remind ourselves of his link to Bellini):
.. and so let's treat ourselves and hear a Master pianist at work: the mahogany-toned Claudio Arrau in the original solo piano Chopin Op. 10/3 (a 1956 recording):
... and thirdly (a Brucie bonus!), the interview with Kaufmann and Deutsch included with the disc refers to this one. You may need to steel yourself - here we really are miles away from the patrician polish of Chopin/Arrau. Meet Karel Gott:
In the depths of Winter (and the present time is an emotional Winter for many), perhaps Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" is the perfect piece. You may remember we encountered voces8's superb choral arrangement of it in a previous post; here is Kaufmann and Deutsch, the pianist incomparable in setting up an atmosphere of desolation, preparing for Kaufmann's appropriately blanched tones:
So to Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942), and Selige Stunde (literally "Holy Hour," translated here as "An Hour of Bliss"). Immediately we're in a different, more harmonically fragrant world. Friend, and later brother-in-law to Arnold Schoenberg, Zemlinsky created a musical world is very much fin de siècle Vienna; he had ties to Mahler, too. This song immediately precedes the Chopin arrangement, so there's a bit of a wrench after one hears it, but what a magnificent song!
Zemlinsky was in vogue a while ago, but seems to have withdrawn a little, so we may need to explore more at a later date here on Classical Explorer. In the meantime, a reminder that the excellent and under-rated conductor James Conlon recorded a significant sequence of Zemlinsky discs for EMI with the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra. Many of those recordings seem to be going for a small fortune now on Amazon, but the one below of Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) - a magnificent work that was actually one of the the first Zemlinsky pieces I saw in live performance, at the Festival Hall if I remember rightly - is reasonably priced and will be revelatory for many.
As you can see, Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch's collaboration opens doors to new universes. From popular song to the darkest Mahler, from a Mendelssohn "Auf Flügen des Gesanges" (On The Wings of Song), to Wolf and Mozart, we are taken on a stroll through the Lied repertoire that, just for an hour or so, takes us away from the woes of the World: and in that sense, it is Kaufmann and Deutsch's gift to us all. Selige Stunde, indeed.