Jonas Kaufmann: You Mean the World to Me (CD review)

Jonas Kaufmann, tenor; Julia Kleiter, soprano; Jochen Rieder, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Sony Classical 88843087712.

This disc is for fans of international superstar Jonas Kaufmann, fans of early twentieth-century stage and screen songs, and maybe fans of Romantic nostalgia as well.

German operatic singer Jonas Kaufmann says that the idea for the album You Mean the World to Me came to him at the end of a concert when he had finished singing a light number for a crowd of 20,000 delighted admirers. He thought, "Why should songs such as "You Are My Heart's Delight" and "You Mean the World to Me" be no more than encores? Why not make them and other perennial favourites the main programme?" Accordingly, we have an album that includes seventeen light songs by German, Austrian, Hungarian, Russian, and Bohemian composers, the songs presented in their original arrangements and written between 1925-1935 for the Berlin stage and screen. The tunes cover a turbulent era that included postwar economic strife, the establishment of the Weimar Republic, the close of the Roaring Twenties, the worldwide Great Depression, and the rise of Naziism. Yet through it all, people wrote and sang and listened to music: popular, folk, jazz, and classical. On the present album, Kaufmann sings for us some of his favorite popular songs of the period.

Now, here's the thing: You have to remember that Mr. Kaufmann is primarily an opera singer, and when opera singers turn to more-popular fare, the results sometimes sound a bit like overkill. Such is the case here, with Kaufmann's huge tenor voice occasionally overpowering the simplicity of the stage and film numbers presented. He takes it all very seriously, of course, but by making most of the selections sound like pieces from Wagnerian opera, he perhaps loses a little something in the way of stage-musical color and drama. That is, he never quite convinced this listener that he was a character in a musical play or a part of an actual story line. Instead, he offers the songs out of context in big, full-throated fashion, some in German, some in English, the ones in German coming off best. Nonetheless, there is little doubt he loves the material, and his vocal presence conveys solid authority and conviction. He will not disappoint his fans.

The songs are too numerous to cover, so I'll just mention the names of the composers and point out a few selections I enjoyed most. The composers include some familiar names and a few less familiar: Lehar, Tauber, Stolz, Kalman, Heymann, Abraham, Benatzky, May, Spoliansky, Kunneke, and Korngold.

Jonas Kaufmann
My favorite selections include everything by Franz Lehar, whose operettas have always delighted me. Here, you'll find "Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss," "You Are My Heart's Delight," "My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue," all sung in English; and "Freunde, Das Leben Ist Lebenswert" and "Je T'ai Donne mon coeur." Lehar was probably the most popular operetta composer of his or any other day, and Kaufmann does his music fair justice. Years ago the singer Richard Tauber was instrumental in Lehar's prosperity, helping to make Lehar's songs so wildly successful. In fact, Marlene Dietrich once remarked that she understood why Bing Crosby was such a big star: "He's learnt everything from Tauber." Anyway, I bring it up because Kaufmann has a big order to fill the vocal shoes of Tauber (and to a lesser extent Crosby). Having only heard Tauber on a very few occasions, I can say that Kaufmann surpasses him handily in vocal command; however, Tauber had a more delicate way of phrasing lines, something that tends slightly to escape Kaufmann, who is more of an operatic technician than a Twenties' crooner.

Kaufmann seems most at home in the music of Robert Stolz ("Im Traum Hast du Mir Alles Erlaubt," "Don't Ask Me Why"). Stolz wrote primarily for films, and his material seems fairly accessible today, with Kaufmann appearing to put even more heart in it than he does some of the other selections. Likewise with Emmerich Kalman and Werner Richard Heymann. The songs trip lightly off Kaufmann's tongue.

On three numbers soprano Julia Kleiter joins Kaufmann, and she provides a charming counterbalance to the tenor's big, robust voice. In all, it's a delightful album, and while I may have some minor reservations, it offers a ton of musical pleasures.

Producer Philipp Nedel, balance engineer Philip Siney, and recording engineers Martin Kistner and Hansjorg Seiler made the album at the Broadcasting Center, Nalepastrasse, Berlin in January 2014. Kaufmann's voice sounds well recorded, although it's a little closer to us than the orchestra. In the media pictures of him, he's singing directly into a microphone, and that's how his voice comes off in the recording, somewhat bigger than life compared to the orchestral accompaniment. Still, there is little glare or edge in the voice, and it appears quite natural. The orchestra plays lightly and sweetly behind him, never intrusive, always supportive, and sounding nicely detailed at the same time. It clearly knows its place.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa