Sunday 7 December 2014

A delight for the Christmas box - Jonas Kaufmann in Operetta

You Mean the World to Me - Jonas Kaufmann - Sony
You Mean The World To Me, operetta arias by Lehar, Tauber et al; Jonas Kaufmann, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jochen Rieder; Sony
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 6 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Delightful revisiting of pre-war popular repertoire by the dramatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann

Always an artist to have a varied repertoire, with operas ranging from Puccini and Cilea to Wagner, as well as recording discs of Schubert songs, star tenor Jonas Kaufmann has turned his attention to the popular songs of the interwar years, the songs of his grandfather's generation. On this new disc on Sony Classical he sings music by Franz Lehar, Richard Tauber, Emmerich Kalman, Werner Richard Heyman, Hans May, Paul Abraham, Ralph Benatski, Robert Stolz, Mischa Spolianski, Edward Kunnecke and Erich Korngold accompanied by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Jochen Rieder. Some of the music is familiar and some may be unfamiliar to those not brought up in German speaking areas but much of it is delightful. Whilst operetta is the main staple, the songs move towards cabaret and the more popular as well. Though we stay firmly on the side of the sentimental and never veer into the more political and satirical.

Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) had a remarkably long career writing operettas and his later works (from the 1920's and 1930's) were very much kept in the limelight because of the involvement of star tenor Richard Tauber, including six operettas specifically for Tauber. Kaufmann opens the disc with Girls are made to love and kiss from the 1929 operetta Paganini and the surprise on the disc is that he sings it in English. Good English, with a slight American twang to some words, but all the same I did rather miss it in German though I believe Tauber also sang it in English.  And the last item on the disc is another curiosity, a French version of a song from The Land of Smiles.

We get five Lehar items in total. They are not easy sings and Kaufmann does not have Tauber's relaxed lyric voice. Kaufmann sometimes uses something of a croon, but when he opens up you detect the heldentenor gleaming below, being kept under control. The results, in their own idiomatic way, are delightful and the songs repay the care and attention that Kaufmann brings to them.

We also get two of Tauber's own pieces, Im Traum hast mir Alles from Liebeskommando and Du bist die Welt fur mich, the Cd's title track, from Der singende Traum; big bold number in which Kaufmann combines some lovely fine-grained singing with moments of real drama.

Emmerich Kalman (1882 - 1953) composed operettas very much in the shadow of Lehar. Kalman was the silver to Lehar's gold, but his music still has real charm. Here were get the charming Gruss mir mein Wien from one of his best known operettas Grafin Maritza premiered in 1922. Here Kaufmann shows us how can croon with the best of them. Paul Abraham (1892 - 1960) was another of the less operetta composers. His Reich mir zum Abschi is a charming duet from his 1930 operetta Viktoria und ihr Hussar, whilst Diwanpuppchen from the 1931 Die Blume von Hawaii is the sort of crazy 1930's foxtrot (with a rather demented female vocals from Julia Kleiter) which brings a real smile to the face. Abraham was forced to leave in 1933 and at one point ended up as a pianist in Cuba.

Robert Stolz (1880 - 1975) was perhaps the last major composer of operettas and Don't ask me Why? is in fact from the 1930 film The Song is Over, a lovely schmalzy waltz which Kaufmann croons beautifully. Edward Kunnecke (1885 - 1953) was another composer of operettas, his Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk from the 1935 operetta Die grosse Sunderin is a rather big boned number which still preserves elements of opera. Erich Korngold (1897 - 1957) made perhaps the biggest leap in terms of career, moving from Viennese child prodigy writing in the early Schoenberg/Richard Strauss late Romantic vein to a full blooded Hollywood film composer. His opera Die Tote Stadt dates from 1920 and is nowhere near operetta, but hearing the duet Gluck das mir Verblieb (sung with Julia Kleiter) in the context of so much operetta makes you realise quite what a continuum there was at the time with far less compartmentalisation than we might expect, and Korngold's big melody stands up well to the scrutiny of the operetta masters.

Ralph Benatski (1884 - 1957) is another composer whose name might not be known but The White Horse Inn probably is. This was an operetta which shaded into musical comedy, with a score by more than one composer (Robert Stolz was also involved). Benatski's It must be Wonderful almost takes us into the world of cabaret, and Kaufmann seems entirely unphased by the style and puts on the real charm.

With Irgendwo auf der Welt by Werner Richard Heyman (1896 - 1961) we are very much in cabaret territory. (Though in face Heyman ended up having to leave because of his Jewishness and ended up writing score in Hollywood include the Garbo vehicle Ninotchka). And Kaufmann turns his hand neatly to the genre, singing with a very light touch. We stay in the same vein with My song goes round the world by Hans May (1886 - 1956). It is in fact film music, but similar in style to Heyman's cabaret.

Mischa Spoliansky (1898 - 1985) was another composer working in the cabaret scene in Berlin and his songs are being rather discovered again (the opera singer/cabaret artiste Melinda Hughes has done a programme of them). Heute Nachde oder Nie is a delightful number from the 1932 film Das Lied einer Nacht, and was the song which made Spoliansky famous and made his naturalisation as a British citizen possible in 1933.

These songs come from a period when tenors were superstars and had composers to write for them. the icon of the period for English speaking audiences is perhaps Marlene Dietrich, but as important were the operatically trained voices.

Kaufmann sings all the items on the disc beautifully, sympathetically and idiomatically but his distinctive take on these songs will not be for everyone. But for me the disc was an entire delight and it would make a lovely Christmas box.

Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) - Paganini: "Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss"
Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) - The Land of Smiles: "You Are My Heart's Delight"
Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) - Der singende Traum: "Du bist die Welt für mich"
Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) - Frasquita: "My Little Nest of Heavenly Blue"
Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) - Liebeskommando: "Im Traum hast Du mir alles erlaubt"
Emmerich Kalman (1882 - 1953) - Gräfin Mariza: "Grüß mir mein Wien"
Werner Richard Heyman (1896 - 1961) - Ein blonder Traum: "Irgendwo auf der Welt"
Hans May (1886 - 1956) - My Song Goes Round the World
Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) - Giuditta: "Freunde das Leben ist lebenswert!"
Paul Abraham (1892 - 1960)  - Victor und ihr Husar: "Reich mir zum Abschied noch einmal die Hände"
Ralph Benatski (1884 - 1957) - The White Horse Inn:"It Must Be Wonderful Indeed"
Paul Abraham (1892 - 1960)  -  Die Blume von Hawaii: "Diwanpüppchen"
Robert Stolz (1880 - 1975)  - The Song is Over:"Don't Ask Me Why"
Mischa Spoliansky (1898 - 1985)  - Das Lied einer Nacht: "Heute Nacht oder nie"
Edward Kunnecke (1885 - 1953)  - Die große Sünderin: "Das Lied vom Leben des Schrenk"
Erich Korngold (1897 - 1957)  - Die tote Stadt: "Glück, das mir verblieb"
Franz Lehar (1870 - 1948) - Das Land des Lächelns: "Je t'ai donné mon coeur" Jonas Kaufmann (tenor)
Julia Kleiter (soprano)
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Jochen Rieder (conductor)
Recorded at Nalepastrasse Broadcasting Studio, Berlin (form headquarters of East German Radio)

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