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.

JJP

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


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa